Sunday 30 April 2017

Sinead Kissane: Loyalty and longevity make Muldoon the miracle man

Connacht captain had many reasons to leave over the years but soldiered on - and tonight will play 300th game for province

Connacht captain John Muldoon
Connacht captain John Muldoon
John Muldoon will play his 300th game for Connacht this evening. Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

John Muldoon spoke in a language which everyone understood on the eve of Connacht's Guinness Pro12 final against Leinster last May. He didn't hide behind the safety of nauseous rugby jargon like 'process' and 'work-ons' when he talked about the success the other provinces enjoyed through the years.

"The other Irish teams and provinces have been so successful over the last 10 years that of course I've been jealous. I've looked on in envy and thought 'wouldn't it be great for Connacht to be there some day'," said the Westerners' captain.

Now, imagine if Muldoon hadn't lifted the Pro12 trophy the following day at Murrayfield, imagine if Connacht lost the final and with it went the only real chance Muldoon would ever have to win silverware as a player with his home province?

Would it have lessened his status in your eyes as he plays his 300th competitive game for Connacht today?

Didn't think so.

But Connacht winning the Pro12 title last season saved us having to confront the dubious notion that you get what you deserve in the end because what Irish captain deserved to finally win something more than Muldoon?

Unlike other provincial skippers over the past decade, Muldoon didn't have Six Nations titles or Triple Crowns to sustain him along with his provincial career.

There have been various stages in Muldoon's career when he reminded me of Billy Joel's Piano Man; after another sucker defeat, I wondered what his reply would be if he was ever asked, 'man, what are you doing here?'

Well, he had doubts himself. One of his low days with Connacht was a 23-0 defeat away to the Dragons in May 2007. Muldoon lost it with his team-mates afterwards.

"I felt that we should have won the game and that one or two of the team were happy to play and pick up a pay cheque. I had a bit of a pop in the dressing-room," Muldoon said in the book Front Up, Rise Up, the official story of Connacht's rise to the title.

"I'm sure I was called every sort of name afterwards. Some said, 'Ah, f*** off, will you?'. One or two lads understood but reckoned that probably wasn't the time or place.

"I remember putting my head in my hands afterwards and going, 'Right, that's me done. I'm not f***ing staying here. I just can't do it'."

In December 2008 Muldoon told his then head coach Michael Bradley that he was close to signing for another team after Connacht decided to only offer him "a 5pc increase on a wage I knew was already low". Ulster came in with a good offer too.

It was after Connacht's first win over Munster in Galway since 1979 that Christmas that Muldoon changed his mind and decided to stay. It wasn't just other provinces' success but their capacity to defeat rival provinces which had a huge influence on Muldoon.

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There's something rather apt about the fact that it is on Easter weekend that the 34-year-old back-row is set to achieve a feat no other Irish player has done previously.

Because he represents a club which refused to be killed off and disbanded, and that rising eventually culminated in last season's title.

Today Muldoon will play his 300th competitive game for a single club.

To put that figure in perspective, take two other former provincial captains: Paul O'Connell played 174 times for Munster and Brian O'Driscoll played 186 times for Leinster.

Admittedly, their overall career tallies were supplemented by Ireland internationals and Lions matches.

Muldoon, by contrast, only played three times for Ireland. His third and last international ended when he broke his arm in the first half against New Zealand in New Plymouth in the summer of 2010.

"I had Wally (David Wallace) inside me, roaring at me to get up and I didn't want to responsible for them breaking through again. Unless you're not able to walk, you get into line and my legs were fine. It was just a long phase and I did what I could," Muldoon said about playing on until there was a break in play.

Muldoon doesn't package his Ireland career up for public consumption.

"I'm proud to have the caps, but I didn't really ever feel like I was part of an Ireland team. I felt more like a tackle bag for whatever number of years I was up there (in Dublin), on and off for three or four years," he said in Front Up, Rise Up.

With Connacht, Muldoon is their man for all seasons.

For their European Challenge Cup pool game against Enisei in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia in November 2015, Muldoon was initially thinking of resting before ultimately deciding to go on the trip, a journey which ended up lasting a whole week for various reasons which started with a technical fault in their charter plane.

Stuck in Moscow airport, it was Muldoon who bought dinner for the entire squad.

Muldoon brings the extra scaffolding of generosity to his job as Connacht captain.

The week leading up to the Pro12 final he called the squad together and they decided to pay for four academy players to travel with them to Edinburgh. The province were flying the 46 players who played on the pitch for the province that season to the final.

But Muldoon and his team-mates didn't like the fact that four academy players - Ciaran Gaffney, Cormac Brennan, Saba Meunargia and Rory Moloney - who had trained with them weren't part of the travelling squad, so they paid for the quartet out of their own pocket.

Loyalty linked with longevity seems to be going out of fashion in professional sport but seem to be locked in with Muldoon.

"I think it's a miracle!" former team-mate Johnny O'Connor says about Muldoon making his 300th appearance for Connacht.

He's great discipline of action, he goes and he gets things done and does what he says he's going to do. He's got really strong behavioural traits.

"When people talk about culture, he's very humble, he's works very hard. Culture isn't culture without your leaders actually living that and being the guys that design it".

By designing that culture, Muldoon has helped make Connacht the draw that it is.

Irish Independent

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