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'Thomond Park, Connacht v Munster... That would have been some day'

Connacht captain John Muldoon will watch Toulouse’s trip with some regrets.

JOHN MULDOON AND his Connacht team-mates will put their feet up on the first weekend of April to watch the Champions Cup quarter-finals, and they’ll wonder what might have been.

Toulouse will travel to Limerick that weekend to take on Munster in the first knockout round of the European competition, but buried feelings of regret are likely to come to the fore for Connacht.

John Muldoon dejected after the game 22/1//2017 John Muldoon after Connacht's defeat in Toulouse last weekend. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Muldoon has played Toulouse twice this season, helping Connacht to victory in the Sportsground back in October, before they came up agonisingly short last weekend at Stade Ernest Wallon.

The 34-year-old is well placed to judge how the contest between Munster and the Top 14 side will go, although he is disappointed that the quarter-final is not an all-Irish affair.

Heading to Limerick will be a tough, tough task, but Muldoon would love to be taking on the challenge.

“Thomond Park, Heineken Cup… you know the history,” says Muldoon. “This club [Toulouse] has huge history as well and if you give them an opportunity they’ll take it.

“I said it to the lads, we’ve been watching their games and in the last few weeks, I don’t know what’s gone on, but they’ve gone back to the club of old. They’re throwing the ball around and the flair is back.

“When they have that French flair and that capability with those big forwards up front and they start mixing it, anything is possible.

“But Thomond Park in a quarter-final… Jesus, you wouldn’t like to be going there. Anywhere else would be a bonus, but look they’ll be a force to be reckoned with there and so will Munster. Munster will be fancying their chances.

“It’ll be a good game, but we’re just disappointed we’re not in there. That would have been some day. Thomond Park, Connacht v Munster…”

Muldoon trails off and you just know that it’s going to take some time for the Portumna man to get over missing out on a quarter-final by just two points.

Billy Holland with John Muldoon Munster beat Connacht in their most recent tie. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The number eight, who has signed on for another year with Connacht, came close to missing out on playing in Toulouse last weekend, but pulled through in the end.

“I gave my hammy a bit of a twinge on Friday, so I had a fitness test to do before the game,” says Muldoon. “We had one or two back rows here, it was either poor old Eoin [McKeon] … I felt sorry for him, he was mentally preparing all day and it’s either start or not be involved at all.

“He looked over at me and I put the thumbs up and he just pointed at himself and says, ‘I’m in?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m grand’.  So, I felt sorry for him but I have to thank the physios and Pat [Lam] for putting the call in my hands and respecting my decision.”

Muldoon was superb on Saturday but he says he would gladly have sat in the stand in return for a Connacht win and that first-ever quarter-final.

His try brought Connacht storming back into the game in the second half, but they couldn’t find the crucial score to secure a losing bonus point late on in the game.

There are regrets over the 14-point advantage Connacht gave up early on, and the fact that they didn’t manufacture a drop-goal opportunity in the endgame, but Muldoon is convinced the close call will be a good experience for this young squad.

“We talk about game management and experience, things like these, and when you take old Tom McCartney and young John Muldoon out of the team we’ve a very, very young team, a very inexperienced team,” says the Connacht captain.

“Without being disrespectful to any of the lads, Craig [Ronaldson] was playing for Lansdowne two or three seasons ago, so was Matt [Healy] and they’re inexperienced in terms of big game situations like this.

Bundee Aki celebrates after the game Bundee Aki has been badly missed. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Bundee [Aki] would have been a big influence against Toulouse and the point I’m getting to is that we have a lot of lads coming back over the next few weeks and they’ll add a lot to us.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about injuries and say this or that, play the poor man’s thing, but it has disrupted us. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been getting more and more lads back. You’ve been seeing it in the performances, they’ve been getting better the last few weeks.

“Unfortunately, you’re looking at lads standing on the wing and you’re wondering, ‘Who the hell is this fellah?’ That’s the way it’s been over the last few weeks, some of the lads I didn’t even know were training with us.

“Thankfully we’re coming to the other side of that and we’ll have a few lads back and that will add great competition to us. That was the key thing last year, we had competition through all of the places.

“We are disappointed, but we can take some positives out of it as well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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