'Team for everyone' get their just rewards
Published 30/05/2016 | 02:30
As John Muldoon stood at the side of the stage for the moment he had spent his entire career waiting for, he started waving frantically across the pitch to the members of the squad who were suited up for the occasion but who weren't involved in the final.
The message was clear: he wanted them all up on the stage to share in the moment when he would lift the first major trophy in Connacht's history. The players didn't need to be told twice.
It was typical of Muldoon to think of his team-mates when he would have been forgiven for getting lost in his own thoughts about everything he had done to get here.
This comes from the same kind of loyalty and appreciation that saw the Connacht players personally pay for the cost of four academy players - who trained with the squad through the season but who did not play in any games - to travel to Edinburgh along with the 46 who had played some part on the field.
You can't put a value on that kind of generosity of spirit.
What goes around comes around with this Connacht squad, as there were heaps of goodwill shown towards them on Saturday. It felt like Connacht had become a team for everyone.
When Leinster arrived at the ground 90 minutes before kick-off, the Leinster fans roared their support.
But when the Connacht team bus pulled up minutes later under the appropriately-named West Stand at Murrayfield, it seemed like something bigger had just arrived. As they got off the bus, Pat Lam and Muldoon raised their arms in acknowledgement of the support.
At that moment, it looked like destiny had arrived for Connacht, it sounded like it and it felt like it. But Connacht still had to go and make it happen.
It was like the silly Kiss Cam on the big screen before kick-off where just because you're in position, it doesn't mean it's going to happen.
When the camera zoomed in on one man who was sitting between two women, the stadium announcer asked: "Which one is he going to kiss?" After the man turned and kissed one woman, the stadium announcer quipped "and the other one is his wife".
Like all season, Connacht played like they had enough of performing the role of jilted lover of Irish rugby. They didn't so much seize the moment as wrestle it to the ground as they answered enough of what Leinster asked of them while also asking serious questions of why there aren't more Connacht players in the Ireland squad.
The three tries scored by their back three Tiernan O'Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy were made and finished with the kind of thrills and skills which gets turnstiles whirring.
They've got a player with as much cult status among fans as any other province can currently boast with only his first name required, as the chants of "Bun-dee, Bun-dee, Bun-dee" were sung out every time Bundee Aki produced a big moment.
On the eve of the final, Muldoon admitted how he watched in envy as the other provinces enjoyed years of success. Maybe some things are just worth waiting for.
As the stage was being set up for the trophy presentation, the Leinster players stood watching the Connacht players give the kind of bear-hugs to each other which could only come from a side which needed this win more.
For once, all eyes were on Connacht. After walking around the pitch with their winners' medals, the players stood in front of their fans in the West Stand and they seemed tethered to each other. They finally started to head for the tunnel and the dressing-room to the tune of Daft Punk's Get Lucky.
There was nothing lucky about this eventual success which men like Eric Elwood helped build from his time as a player and head coach.
Lam said his predecessor Elwood had to be almost dragged into the dressing-room to celebrate with the players. Just as Muldoon thought he had a handle on his emotions, once he saw Elwood he said he was gone again.
When the Connacht skipper mentioned Elwood in the press conference, it was the first time his voice quivered as he spoke about a man who is just as much Connacht rugby as Muldoon himself.
After a season which started with a disappointing end to the World Cup, the club season finished with another team in green showing what's possible.
Within an hour of winning their first trophy, Lam spoke about their plans for next season, defending the title they had just won and trying to qualify for the knock-out stage of the Champions Cup.
While Lam was talking at the press conference, there were times when Muldoon, who was sitting next to him, would break into a smile as if he just couldn't believe what had just happened on the pitch.
Where did it all go right? Connacht utterly deserve this for working hard to play the style of rugby they play, for sticking to their grand plan despite some criticism this season, especially after the manner in which they lost the Challenge Cup quarter-final to Grenoble, which they learned from.
Lam spoke about his plan of not just wanting his squad to become better players but to become better people.
He's got a group of players who seem to get the best out of each other on the pitch and they have a generosity of spirit like Muldoon showed to his team-mates before he got up on stage and like they showed four academy players who they wanted with them for the big day.
For Connacht, what goes around comes around.