Dublin: 10°C Sunday 25 July 2021

Keane hoping Muldoon's day in the sun can inspire bright days ahead

After a week of looking back on the John Muldoon era, Connacht have to look ahead at how they will improve next season.

IT WAS THE kind of week to prompt everyone connected with Connacht to look back, either to their own first involvement with the province, or their first encounter with John Muldoon.

For most, the two memories were one and the same.

John Muldoon celebrates Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When I was about 17,” said Jack Carty after a superb outing in a seven-try win over Leinster that feels a world away from his early Connacht A experience against the eastern province, “I was still in school or just out of school.

“I said it to Mul during the week, I had never said it to him (before): coming off the pitch he came over and put his arm around me. I had never met him before and he was just like: ‘keep hammering away with all of your extras, keep the head down’.

“It has been an absolute honour to play with him as a teammate but more importantly to get to know him as a really good mate. That is the way everyone feels about him. What he has done for this club has been phenomenal. We were delighted to send him off in style today.”

Kieran Keane had kind words for Muldoon too, thanking him for staying on as captain and being a coaching conduit through this season on top of saluting Muldoon’s quality as a person and leader of the utmost humility.

However, there was a cheerfulness to KK like no other time this season. And why not? This was a performance where everything his team have worked to create through the season, came to fruition in a perfect storm to blow Leinster away.

At set-piece Gavin Thornbury and Denis Buckley were dominant, they were vicious in attack and their line-speed in defence cranked the pressure beyond sustainable levels for their visitors.

As an attack specialist, Keane couldn’t hide his excitement for one move in particular, a Kieran Marmion try kick-started by Carty.

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Jack Carty with Tom Daly Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s the way rugby can go,” offered the Kiwi, ready to play down the margin of the win before his love of ingenious skill took his head swiveling left to Carty.

“What I really loved was your chip kick, mate!

“We’ve practiced it all bloody season!

“It was a beauty. You timed it to perfection. You stood still and it just went ‘bunk.’ Brilliant.”

Somewhat bashfully, Carty noted: “Tiernan called it for me” and the fullback plucked the pill from the air like a man who knew precisely where the move was going before deftly delivering the final pass inside to Marmion.

Between scores like that, sensational offloads from Shane Delahunt, sustained sets of error-free phaseplay and ferocity at the contact area, Connacht set themselves a benchmark to strive for in the post-Muldoon era.

37-point wins are a rarity, but the muscle memory of the skills executed in this game can be built on in the years ahead.

Shane Delahunt offloads to set up a Niyi Adeolokun try despite James Lowe and Tom Daly Shane Delahunt was a force of nature against Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We have had that inside us. We have taken a fair bit of heat from all quarters (this season). These inter-pros bring out the best in us. It’s nice to create a little bit of history for the team. But also a little bit of belief. The boys should feel very proud of themselves. It’s not very often you put 47 up like that.”

A shame then that this game was the end of Connacht’s season, a disappointing campaign in which they finished above only Zebre in Pro14 Conference A – and the Italians’ improvement meant the two clubs finished with seven wins and 14 losses apiece.

On this showing, Keane’s Connacht will be better for this ‘bittersweet’ first season.

“We learned some pretty tough lessons and we had to learn them too. Probably from my perspective, bittersweet might be a little bit more accurate. But as far as the players are concerned as a team, we needed to learn those lessons if we are going to really be the quality team that we aspire to be. Growing pains.

“Personally, I have a bit of disappointment around some fixtures, but I share that disappointment with my team.

“I’d quite like to have six or seven wins where we lost by four or five (points) or less. They’re growing pains. We’ve got a neat bunch of men. They’re really starting to get on with eachother and I think they like what we’re doing.

“It was really nice to be able to celebrate our talisman’s send-off. But there’s something for the future for all of us.”

Kieran Keane before the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That future was already at the forefront of Keane’s thoughts as the end-of-season celebrations kicked off in the neighbouring team rooms. The former Chiefs attack coach is eager to see a full appraisal of the methods and means that go in to Connacht this summer, something he feels slipped through the cracks during the handover between Pat Lam and his tenure before this season began.

“We’re going to have a big review and sit down,” says Keane, who made confident noises around the recruitment of up to three more players.

“I think there was a little bit of lip service paid to it last year, mainly because of coaches going and different personnel coming in.

We’re going to have a very robust review about everything. In terms of coaching, in terms of the way we play, the players are going to get an opportunity to have one-on-ones and (talk about the) way forward.

“We’re going to do it right. Because if we don’t, we’ll get caught with our pants down again at the beginning of next season. We don’t want to do that.”

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Sean Farrell

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