West's awake as Muldoon channels the spirit of 1980
Connacht 16 Glasgow 11
Published 23/05/2016 | 02:30
Before he left for the Sportsground on Saturday, John Muldoon found himself on YouTube watching footage of the celebrations after Galway's All-Ireland hurling victory in 1980 and the late Joe McDonagh's rendition of 'The West's Awake'.
He didn't get to make a speech a la Joe Connolly, but the Connacht captain did get swept up in scenes reminiscent of a mini-All-Ireland in the aftermath of this Guinness Pro12 semi-final victory at the Sportsground as the fans lingered on the pitch to sing 'The Fields of Athenry' long after the full-time whistle.
Nobody wanted to leave. Of all of the big wins in Galway this season, this was probably the least memorable performance but the significance of reaching a first final was lost on no one.
As the players sat in the dressing-room before kick-off, two singers led the packed stadium in a rendition of 'The West's Awake' and the players responded with a performance that saw them deservedly book a date with Leinster in Edinburgh next Saturday.
"It's poignant at the time when Joe McDonagh passed away," Muldoon said. "I was watching YouTube clips this morning of Joe Connolly and Joe McDonagh singing and the speech. Condolences to the family.
"You're in an area that people follow all sports. It's not just rugby fans that are out there. A lot of those people are soccer, hurling and football fans. We're all pulling out of a small pool. It's obviously sad for Joe and his family. 63 years of age. It's a poignant day and 'The West's Awake' is thrown out in a rugby stadium at that time. I met him a couple of times, a very nice man. Secretly he was a rugby fan as well. He mightn't have said it too loud but he enjoyed watching a few rugby matches as well."
Muldoon has experienced an All-Ireland win as part of the Galway minor squad in 2000 and, while he got the parallels on Saturday, he was quick to remind anyone listening that the job is not done yet.
"We are in a final, which is superb, but we have got to win the shagging thing now," he said. "The way the crowd got behind us, the fact is that the momentum always goes with the home team (in the play-offs) so it's important to have the crowd behind us.
"The last few months the crowd has been huge, none more so than today. It was euphoric at the end. I was trying to get in off the pitch. It was pretty mental. Everyone probably thinks I'm the most ignorant man in the world because I was running past people.
"It's huge, a little bit surreal at times, to think of where we have come from and what we have done."
In beating the champions twice in three weeks, they have earned their place in the competition's showpiece event in Scotland's capital on Saturday where they will face Leinster.
Saturday's game was a strange one. A minute in, a sickening clash of heads forced Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson and out-half Finn Russell off the pitch and delayed the game for more than five minutes.
It was a big blow to Gregor Townsend's side and it appeared to rattle them as both teams struggled to get into their rhythm after the initial momentum was disrupted. After the game, Pat Lam confessed that Bundee Aki had twisted his knee in training on Tuesday and was on crutches for part of the week.
Despite being a major doubt right up until kick-off, the Samoan was outstanding with ball in hand, but it was his deft kick that blew the game wide open.
His knock-on had earlier ruled out what looked like Eoin McKeon's earlier score and with half-time approaching and the score at 3-3, the centre put a deft chip into the path of Niyi Adeolokun who gathered, stepped inside Stuart Hogg and slipped through Duncan Weir's tackle to score.
The Sportsground erupted and, for all that the champions never gave up, the lead never changed hands.
Leone Nakarawa's try did narrow the gap, but AJ MacGinty's boot kept the western province out in front.
Adeolokun thought he had sealed it with a great try in the corner, but referee Marius Mitrea called it back for an accidental offside.
Rodney Ah You got himself sin-binned for a lazy high tackle on Hogg and the hosts had to defend their lead with 14 men, yet they did just that in a frenzied endgame.
The full-time whistle was greeted with a roar that almost lifted the roof off the Clan Terrace and scenes of joy on the Sportsground pitch.
The fans luxuriated in the moment, the players made their way to the dressing-room.
For all that this was a historic moment, there's a trophy to be won next week.
"We haven't won anything as a team together, but you have a lot of people who have won competitions," Muldoon said. "Tom McCartney (with the Blues), Bundee Aki, with the Chiefs, and you have a lot of young fellas there who have won different competitions.
"It's probably hard to believe, but we have been talking about winning a final for a good few weeks and months now. We probably haven't been saying that too loud. But we reassessed our goals a good few months back and all roads were pointing at Edinburgh."
Eighty minutes stand between Muldoon and those steps. You never know, he might even grab a microphone and strike up a verse if he gets there.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki (P Robb 72), M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion (J Cooney 60); R Loughney (R Ah You 65), T McCartney, F Bealham (D Heffernan 71), U Dillane (A Browne 61), A Muldowney; E McKeon (S O'Brien 61), J Heenan (JP Cooney 74), J Muldoon (capt).
Glasgow Warriors - S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett, P Horne (T Naiyaravoro 60), S Lamont; F Russell (D Hogg 1), H Pyrgos; G Reid (R Grant 63), F Brown (P MacArthur 60), Z Fagerson (D Rae 1) (R Grant 60-63); L Nakarawa, J Gray (capt); R Wilson, S Favaro (A Ashe 30), J Strauss (T Swinson 67).
Ref - M Mitrea (Italy)