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'It'd be remiss of the whole organisation if we stood back and went ‘Oh, we’re happy''

Connacht captain John Muldoon won’t be taking his foot off the pedal.

CONNACHT COULD BE forgiven for easing up as the season comes to a conclusion, but Pat Lam and his players wouldn’t be able to live with themselves if they did so.

John Muldoon and Bundee Aki celebrate John Muldoon celebrates with Bundee Aki. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Currently sitting second in the Guinness Pro12, Connacht will achieve their primary goal of qualifying for the Champions Cup barring an utter disaster in which they lost all three of their remaining regular season games against Munster, Treviso and Glasgow.

Given their form and confidence, such a scenario borders on the inconceivable.

Saturday sees Lam’s men go up against Grenoble in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup [KO 8.05pm Irish time, BT Sport] and, again, that means they have already achieved their stated aim of advancing into the knock-out stages of the European competition.

Even if Connacht were to lose at Stade des Alpes on Saturday and finish out the Pro12 by missing out on the semi-finals but still achieving Champions Cup qualification, the campaign as a whole would have to be deemed a success.

Captain John Muldoon won’t even entertain thoughts of taking the foot off the pedal at this stage, however.

“Ultimately, we’ve got to a point now where we’re in there with a shout of things,” says the back row. “From the outside we’ve probably over achieved. We’ve got our goal, or close enough to it, but it would be remiss of Pat and the whole organisation if we stood back and went ‘oh, we’re happy.’

“We know Leinster, Ulster and Glasgow are all going to be there in the hunt and they are all sniffing for silverware, and we’re no different.

John Muldoon Muldoon hopes Connacht are just getting started. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“In June or July, when we’re all on holidays sitting on a beach, or whatever we’re doing, we’ll be looking back and hopefully we’ll be looking back saying, ‘What a great season’. If we’ve silverware sitting in a cabinet we’ll be even happier.

“I guess we’ve achieved quite a bit, but when you’re that close to it you want more. It’s the greed in everyone, isn’t it?”

The truth is that most people expect Connacht to finish powerfully, and they have every right to consider themselves as strong contenders for both the Pro12 and Challenge Cup trophies.

While they started the season as underdogs eyeing European qualification, Connacht are viewed as a different beast now. Indeed, many expect them to travel to France this weekend and return with another victory.

I think there has been a weight of expectation on us over the last couple of weeks,’ says Muldoon. “There was a weight of expectation against Leinster here. There will be a weight of expectation against Munster here, but I think we have been dealing with that pretty well over the last few months.

“Just believing in the way we play, and believing in how we do things is the main thing. And we know if we do our stuff we have the raw material to win. Over the last few weeks and months I have been hitting home with the lads, ‘Look around, and look at the talent that’s in this group. If we do our stuff right we will be good enough.’

“If we don’t do it right, ultimately every time we lose a game or we make mistakes, when we look back at it through the video with Pat and the management, it’s because someone didn’t do something right or we haven’t done our jobs right.

John Muldoon and his team celebrate The spirit in Connacht is strong. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That’s the main thing; people are probably sick to the teeth of hearing that word ‘process’ that Pat likes to use. He just drills that into us, and if we do it right then it will come and that is the way it has been for the last few months.”

Connacht are coming into Saturday’s game on the back of a defeat to Ulster in the Pro12, an 18-10 result that ended their six-game winning streak in the league, but Muldoon feels even that disappointment contained signs of how Connacht have progressed.

“We were 18-3 down, and probably in first half we didn’t play as well as we have been. In fairness to Ulster they disrupted our breakdown quite a bit, we struggled in the first half, and they scored a try at the start of the second half.

“In the past we might have folded over. I didn’t see it, but apparently some of the TV [crews] were saying that Ulster were going to push on and get the four tries. I think we have come on a long way in the last couple of years, and the belief was there to trust in what we have been doing for the last few years.

“And to go out and to, I am a bit biased, but it was probably one of the tries of the season from our point of view [Caolin Blade's effort], in terms of the way that we stuck to our structures. I think we just dragged them apart for five or six minutes.

“From our point of view we are in a good place at the moment.”

- This article was updated at 9.08 to correct the word ‘peddle’ to ‘pedal’ in the sixth paragraph.

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Murray Kinsella

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