Seventeen years on, one-club man John Muldoon reckons the "gate" at Connacht's Saturday afternoon clash with Leinster should belong to him.
An endangered species in today’s professional sport, the legendary Pro12-winning captain farewells the Galway Sportsground where he has remained steadfast since joining the academy in 2001. And that, he says, is his proudest achievement, if not the most lucrative.
“Yeah, not the best payers here,” Muldoon joked. “Maybe if I was a little bit older I might have taken the French option, but it is what it is.”
Having turned down offers from Ireland, England and France during his career, the Portumna-born backrow player still has no regrets.
"Being a one-club man is one of my proudest achievements. I can rest easy at night and fall asleep knowing I have enjoyed myself the utmost in Connacht Rugby.
“I’m 35 years of age, and I probably have 30 odd years to make some money. I have memories with friends, with family, and the pride of where I am from which probably has affected my bank balance, but life is for living. If I was stuck in a house or an apartment in the south of France, and while I might have a great tan, I might have had huge regrets if I was not part of that day a couple of years ago.
“It would have killed me not to be part of a team that lifted the trophy [Pro 12], and while it is not the be-all and end-all of every success, it makes a difference. That is what inspires kids to play and pull on green jerseys in the future.”
Muldoon, who made his professional debut against the Scottish Borders in 2003, makes his 327th appearance on Saturday – still the most capped player in the Pro14 since making his 300th last April – also against Leinster. Having struggled through the “darkest days” with Connacht, it is Muldoon’s sense of place that has helped drive him on.
It is a tremendous accolade that people are coming out for a fond farewell, he's been a true talisman for Connacht
“It is probably my GAA background and pride of community. I still enjoy coming in every day. There is that sense of anticipation as the week goes on and it builds in the bottom of your gut, and when the lights come on here on a Friday or Saturday night, it is all worth it. It is something I will miss massively.”
Muldoon, who is expecting his first child in three months, is joining former coach Pat Lam at newly-promoted Bristol as a defence coach, with the blessing of current coach Kieran Keane.
“I spoke to KK [Kieran Keane] in November about it. I admire KK because he is straight down the middle, and I told him I was looking to get a coaching role outside Ireland. He said it would be a good option to break the cord for a while, experience a new league, different people.
"It is a huge opportunity. Knowing Pat and Conor McPhillips will help, so it will make that transition a little bit easier. I am massively excited. It will be a huge couple of months for me, big changes, but it lessens the blow a small bit that while I am walking out of professionalism, I am going into the next best thing which is coaching rugby."
Find his feet
Before that, Muldoon will play his last game for his home club when Leinster roll up to a capacity crowd at the Sportsground fresh from their victory over Scarlets in the Champions Cup.
Connacht head coach Kieran Keane says it will be a great occasion for Muldoon, who has helped him “find his feet” in Ireland this season.
“It is the celebration of an incredible life in rugby. A single club, 327 games, a hell of an achievement by anyone, and I think it is to be celebrated because you don’t often come across that.
“It is a tremendous accolade that people are coming out for a fond farewell, he’s been a true talisman for Connacht. He has had 20 starts and four as a sub this season, so he’s played 24 of the 27 games which shows the resilience of this man at the tender age he is.”
After a disappointing season, Connacht have the added incentive of claiming a first hat-trick of victories over the provinces at home.
Keane, however, says he wants his charges “to do their very best, and to celebrate Muldoon with a performance of which they can be proud – win, lose or draw”.
“You don’t often get the opportunity to take on a big dog like Leinster and we were probably a little miffed we didn’t get it in Dublin, so we have plenty to fight for and it will be a tough contest, and they will expect nothing less.”