John Muldoon and Connacht braced for ‘huge task’
Captain’s decision to sign up for another year an ideal boost before Toulouse assignment
John Muldoon: “I am conscious that I’ve been around for a long time, and for me it’s an honour to play on.” Photograph: Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The 34-year-old may “not have made the decision lightly”, but his timely announcement will certainly boost Connacht’s morale ahead of Sunday’s Pool Two decider with the four-times European champions Toulouse.
“To say we are going confident, absolutely. Is there fear? Absolutely, it’s a mix of both. To say they are not the force of old, you might regret saying that.”
The talismanic Muldoon says committing to Connacht Rugby was a “no brainer”, but his age and the 15 years already spent in a Connacht jersey were considered before agreeing last week to put pen to paper again.
“I am conscious that I’ve been around for a long time, and for me it’s an honour to play on. We sat down last year and I decided to continue, but we agreed we would take it month on month and see how the body was holding up and also the form. I didn’t want to stay on unless I was contributing, but missing just one game and starting 15 is not a bad return for a young fellow like me.”
With just a handful of players over 30, Muldoon says having someone whose “been around the block and knows the lads and this place” will also help in the transition following Pat Lam’s departure.
“It can’t do any harm. It is probably why Willy [Ruane] has been pushing it over the last few weeks to get me over the line, to keep that consistency here. Whether it’s being captain or not, doesn’t matter, but helping the transition and the new coach, and I’m glad to do that.
“But first and foremost I want to contribute as a player, as long as the body and mind [can], and that is the key – my mind is still good to go, and obviously the body as well. Speaking to a lot of people who have retired, it’s either one or the other that go, or both, and you need to be pushed out the gate quickly, but thankfully no one is throwing me out the gate just yet.
“I can probably help more in the off-field side of it next year, help some of the young lads develop, and from my point of view probably end up playing less, which would be unusual for me. I have been here a long time, I know how the place runs, and I looking forward to a new challenge that the new appointment will bring.”
For most of those seasons Muldoon has been “on the outside looking in” at Champions Cup rugby and fellow Irish provinces doing well.
“For us to be in with a chance of a home quarter-final is something a few years ago you would have to pinch yourself to make it real. Now we are up against one of the aristocrats of European rugby, who have a couple of stars over their crest and deservedly so. In the last few weeks we have seen a shift back to that French flair and it’s no surprise they are playing beautiful rugby, winning games, and are looking dangerous again.
“It is a huge task we face this weekend, but it is something we have seen and been in front of before, so in that sense it’s an opportunity for us, and it all leads up to the last weekend and one of the tightest groups of the competition.”
Three seasons ago Connacht pulled off one of rugby’s greatest upsets. Their giantkilling of Toulouse in their own back yard still ranks as one of the most significant in the history of the European competition.
“We went with a game plan and and executed it perfectly,” says Muldoon.
“We saw an opportunity to beat them and maybe they did not expect what was coming. It was around the time we had started to implement the changes in our game and that was the rocket-launcher that got us going. I think it gave us the confidence from there on to say ‘ this is what we can do, if we buy into it’.”
Having claimed the Pro 12 two seasons later, and now on the cusp of a first Champions Cup quarter-final, some six players from that victory remain with Connacht today. Although Eoin Griffin is sidelined, and Denis Buckley is doubtful (foot), hopes are high openside Jake Heenan will be fit to join Muldoon, Kieran Marmion, Matt Healy, and Eoin McKeon at Stade Ernest Wallon this weekend.