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Matured Muldoon better equipped to thrive in Connacht captaincy

The 31-year-old back row explains how his approach to the role is different second time around.

Muldoon first captained Connacht in the 2008/09 season.
Muldoon first captained Connacht in the 2008/09 season.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

HEADING INTO HIS second stint as Connacht captain, John Muldoon believes his growth as a person will allow him to manage the unique pressures of the role with greater effectiveness.

The 31-year-old served as the province’s official leader for three seasons from 2008 until 2011, before now retired fullback Gavin Duffy assumed the position. New Zealander Craig Clarke stepped in last season, but the lock was forced to hang up his boots due to repeated concussions.

That left head coach Pat Lam with a decision to make, and Muldoon proved to be the most-qualified candidate to assume the captaincy, a duty he feels more capable of handling this time around, particularly in finding the right balance between driving his teammates and maintaining his own form.

“I was about 24 or 25 the last time I was captain,” Muldoon told TheScore.ie. “You grow into it and you sometimes think too much about it and probably put yourself under more pressure than needs be.

I certainly did that and towards the end of it, I had a drop in form and a couple of injuries affecting that form. The pressure I had put on myself as captain, it was a case of maybe where I wasn’t doing as I was saying.

“It was tough to take when you’re preaching to the lads and you’re not doing it yourself. I had to go away and have a good look at myself, start from scratch.”

The image of a rugby captain has morphed over the last decade. Gone are the days of wild pre-match changing room speeches [although they have their place on occasion]; the captain’s day-to-day influence is now of the most crucial importance.

“I think I was more that [first] person a couple of years ago,” admits Muldoon. “To me now, what do I see as a captain of Connacht? You’ve got to bring clarity, you’ve got to say the right thing at the right time, and know when to say those things.

John Muldoon, Mils Muliaina, Kieran Marmion, Ronan Loughney and Jake Heenan 3/9/2014 Mazda have been announced as Connacht's official car supplier. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I suppose collectively get everybody on the same hymn sheet when things are going wrong on the pitch. Before, I would have been screaming, shouting, losing the plot, giving out to referees. I think those days are gone.

“Craig had a great way of being able to say the right thing at the right time and getting directly to the point. I think that’s one thing I learned from Craig – you don’t need to spend a long time explaining the point.”

Muldoon names Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen as other captains he wants to emulate, those influential figures who pick the ideal words at the ideal time, and deliver them in the ideal tone.

Another testing element of captaincy is on-field tactical decisions – do we go for the posts or kick to the corner and pursue the try; how do we manage this two-point lead in the closing minutes?

Muldoon admits that this responsibility can be a burden, but one he now welcomes.

“It can be difficult. You know if the coach gives you complete and utter trust, you have a split decision to make. For me, it’s a feeling that you have. No two decisions are the same, based on the fact that you’re on the pitch and that you have an idea of how things are going.

“If our kicker hasn’t kicked well that day, maybe you go to the corner. It’s a decision you make on the pitch, putting thought into it. It’s not a predetermined decision is what I’m saying. There comes a pressure, but that comes with the armband.”

John Muldoon Muldoon is better equipped to handle the pressure of the Connacht captaincy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Perhaps the most time-consuming aspect of captaining any professional sports team is dealing with the media. As Connacht’s leader, Muldoon will be expected to front up to journalists before and after games.

The Galwegians clubman has had much practice recently, first at the launch of the Pro12 season and then at the announcement of Mazda as the province’s official car supplier. Muldoon admits the media work can be demanding, but feels it is an important piece of the jigsaw that makes up Connacht.

Are they a pain in the hole? Sometimes they are, if you have to do a lot of them and back-to-back. At the end of the day, the fans want to know what you think. It’s not good enough anymore that the fans just turn up on the weekend and watch the game.

“They want to know more, they want more information. That’s the way fans are now, with social media, etc. They want to see as much as possible, so we understand that they need that outlet.

“It all goes full circle – you provide more information, they get more involved, support the team more, come to games, buy more merchandise, and all of that can help improve the team.”

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Mazda has confirmed that it will continue its long-term support of Connacht by becoming Official Car Sponsor, providing a fleet of over 55 Mazda cars to the squad.

Mazda will take their sponsorship ‘on the road’ by running three Rugby Clinics around Ireland featuring Connacht players and former Ireland internationals. Seewww.mazda.ie or Mazda’s Facebook page for updates.

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Murray Kinsella

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