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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 24 February, 2020

'You walk through town now and you see kids in Connacht jerseys all over the place'

Tiernan O’Halloran hopes Connacht can top off their remarkable rise with a Pro12 trophy.

THERE ARE MANY different motivations for Connacht tomorrow but delivering for their captain is chief among them.

John Muldoon has been slugging away for the western province for 13 seasons now and will make his 274th Connacht appearance tomorrow in Murrayfield.

Connacht’s  Tiernan O’Halloran O'Halloran wants to help deliver for Muldoon. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

If anyone deserves a winner’s medal, it’s the Portumna man.

“It’s something we would all like to win, for John as well because he deserves it,” says fullback Tiernan O’Halloran.

“What he has gone through here, how long he has been here, he epitomises what Connacht is. It would be just brilliant to get that win for Mul and get that trophy. He has never won a trophy at Connacht. It would be brilliant for him as well.”

O’Halloran himself is only 25 but points out that he has seen some tough days with Connacht since his own debut in 2009, recalling playing in front of small crowds when there wasn’t even a Clan Terrace at the Sportsground.

The fullback has seen the transformation of the province at first hand, both on the pitch and in the following off it, and says a trophy tomorrow can top off this incredible journey.

“It’s hard to put into words what it would do for this province, because it’s been such an incredible rise this season.

“You walk through town any day of the week now and you see kids in Connacht jerseys all over the place. Five years ago, you might have seen one every three or four weeks; it would be mainly Gaelic football jerseys.

“That’s the way it’s gone. It’s grown in the province as a whole, it’ll hopefully encourage younger guys coming up in school and in Gaeltacht areas especially to pick up a rugby ball as well as a sliotar.

Tiernan O’Halloran celebrates at the end of the match O'Halloran has been in superb form for Connacht. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“That’ll just help to grow the province. The future of Connacht rugby is going to get better and better if success breeds success. If we can win this weekend, it can grow.”

O’Halloran himself had to turn his back on a promising Gaelic football career in order to concentrate on his rugby dream, having played for the Galway minors.

His father, Aidan, won an All-Ireland with Offaly, meaning the family GAA tradition was very strong.

“It was a big decision, obviously with my dad’s Gaelic football background. I loved playing Gaelic the whole way up,” says O’Halloran.

“I played Galway U16s for two years, Galway minors for two years, and it was something I wanted to do – I wanted to play for Galway when I was growing up.

“As I started to play more and more rugby around the age of 15 or 16, I realised at that stage that I had a bit of potential to maybe make it as a pro player. That’s when it maybe started to swing.

“I used to always go to Connacht games anyway, but back in the day at the Connacht games I never thought I could play for Connacht or be a professional rugby player.

“It progresses and I suppose when I was 17 or 18 I had to make that decision of ‘do I stick with Gaelic football or do I pick rugby?’ It was a big decision at the time and I had a few tough chats with my dad about it as well but at the end of the day he was very supportive about whatever decision I made.

“Nigel [Carolan] and Eric [Elwood] contacted me about joining up down here and it was a huge opportunity for me and I felt it was something I could pursue. They gave me the confidence and backing that I could make it as a pro player.

Tiernan O'Halloran O'Halloran's choice has paid off. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That swung the decision for me but football would still be a massive passion of mine and I’d still watch it all the time and have a massive interest in it.

“It was a tough choice but I’m happy with where I am, to be honest.”

Galway football’s loss has been Connacht rugby’s gain and if O’Halloran and his team-mates can deliver tomorrow, then many more potential footballing stars may be convinced to pick up the oval ball.

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Murray Kinsella

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