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Muldoon bows out as a Connacht great after leading them to new heights

The Portumna man moves on to Bristol next season but leaves behind a fine legacy.

“THE NEW RULE, you’re allowed to go to the corner and you have time.”

So said John Muldoon to referee Mathieu Raynal at the Sportsground on 17 December 2016, with the clock in the red and Connacht trailing Wasps 18-13 in the Champions Cup.

Raynal, who had stepped in as ref after an injury to Jerome Garces, was convinced by Muldoon’s insistence - despite the new law not having come into effect yet.

John Muldoon celebrates Muldoon will play for Connacht for the final time today. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The law stating that teams can throw into a lineout after kicking a penalty to touch even with regular time elapsed wouldn’t actually come into effect in the Northern Hemisphere until 1 August 2017, but Muldoon can be convincing.

At his home ground in Galway, with the pressure on and Connacht in dire need of a platform, the Portumna man got in Raynal’s head and his team drove their maul over the tryline to allow Jack Carty to convert for the win with almost 83 minutes played.

It was a famous victory for Connacht and Muldoon has guided the team to many of those in recent years.

Their regression since the incredible Pro12 success in 2016 has been somewhat inevitable, but it shouldn’t take away from the achievement for a second.

Muldoon led the way as Connacht made history in the most remarkable fashion, that trophy success being the reward his loyalty and passion for the province has always deserved.

The soon-to-be Bristol defence coach provided leadership in his own no-bullshit-but-well-able-to-have-a-laugh manner, while his impact on the pitch even aside from the role of captaincy has been immense for Connacht.

Always a dogged, hard-working and physically aggressive back row, the other strings to Muldoon’s game emerged most notably under Pat Lam in the build-up to that stunning Pro12 success.

Often repositioned in the wide channels, Muldoon looked reinvented and clearly enjoyed being part of that approach. The two years since have involved real frustration as Connacht haven’t matched that sensational season, but even without the same results, Muldoon has still impressed in their attacking style.

John Muldoon with frost in his beard following training Muldoon during Connacht's trip to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia in 2015. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It was extremely telling that in his column for the Irish Independent’s Connacht supplement yesterday, Muldoon’s opening sentence included the words “I just want to do the lads justice before I bow out.”

The occasion at the Sportsground today against Leinster [KO 3.05pm, TG4], when he makes his final appearance for the province, will be emotional and most Connacht people there or watching on at home will be focusing heavily on Muldoon.

His team-mates will be desperate to send him off to Bristol in style, a legend of Connacht rugby rewarded with one final win, but Muldoon himself is thinking about doing “the lads justice.”

As he also points out himself, Muldoon is not heading for the grave so diving into the gushing tributes is something he is not comfortable with. And yet, whatever nice things are said about him today and in the coming days are all fully deserved.

As well as being an excellent rugby player – just three Ireland caps seems too low a tally – Muldoon has always come across as a gentleman and is well-liked by virtually all of his former and current team-mates.

While he doesn’t seem like the kind of person who accepts sloppy standards, he is also more than capable of cracking a joke and bringing out a few smiles.

That’s one of the reasons it made sense for Pat Lam to lure Muldoon over to Bristol and straight into coaching next season. The Connacht man might take some time to adapt to the demands of coaching in a competition as strong as the Premiership, but his character and drive to deliver won’t be in question.

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Away from the actual technical and tactical focus of his coaching, Muldoon should prove to be an important asset to Bristol as a club.

Pat Lam and John Muldoon Pat Lam and Muldoon with the Pro12 trophy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For Connacht, he’s an undeniable loss and bows out as one of their greatest players ever. Others have won the lifelong affection of supporters as the province battled through tough times and got the ball rolling in a journey that would see Connacht winning that Pro12 title, but Muldoon has been a central part of it all along.

An excellent hurler who played for Galway at minor level, Muldoon made his Connacht debut in October 2003.

15 years on, he will make his 327th appearance for the province as he bids farewell as a player.

Muldoon is just 35 and with his coaching career set to take off under Lam, there is always likely to be a desire amongst Connacht fans to see him return as head coach one day and lead them once again to glory.

For now, as Muldoon says goodbye as a player, he can be content that he has helped shift Connacht’s expectations and view of themselves as a rugby-playing province to completely new heights.

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Murray Kinsella

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