Sunday 25 September 2016

Tears flow after Connacht end 29-year hoodoo

Munster 12 Connacht 18

Published 30/11/2015 | 02:30

Bundee Aki scores Connacht’s second try despite the efforts of Andrew Conway
Bundee Aki scores Connacht’s second try despite the efforts of Andrew Conway
Connacht's Jack Carty celebrates at the final whistle

It wasn't long before John Muldoon was talking about graveyards again. The Thomond Park hoodoo might have lifted, but Connacht have unfinished business at the Arm's Park next week.

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That's the thing about the western province, at every turn there is a wrong to right, and after savouring history on Saturday night their next challenge is to ensure they can stay on top of the table going into Christmas.

For the captain, there was a chance to take stock early as he watched much of the final act sitting in a silly yellow chair that an enterprising local waste disposal company have introduced for sin-binned players.

When Muldoon left the field after referee Ben Whitehouse had issued him with a yellow card and somewhat harshly awarded a penalty try for his early tackle on Andrew Conway, he might have felt a familiar sinking feeling.

Yet, his team rallied without him and held Munster scoreless for the 10 minutes he was off the pitch.

When he returned, Connacht got the ball in their hands and began to play it their way again; Robbie Henshaw beat Keith Earls one on one and somehow popped the ball up to Bundee Aki, who touched down brilliantly in the corner.

Suddenly, pockets of Connacht fans appeared all over Thomond Park. It was as if they hadn't wanted to believe until now that their 29-year wait for a win away to Munster was over.

"It's nice to be part of history. A couple of us have tried a lot; I think I have had 13 goes at it and it's finally nice to get one," Muldoon, who made his debut in Limerick back in 2002 said.

"It was definitely a yellow card, no doubt. Was it a double whammy, penalty try and yellow card? I'm not sure. I was walking off thinking 'we are in trouble here'.

"But in fairness to the lads, after a couple of minutes they were doing well and adapting to what was going on on the pitch. I was getting more and more confident that I was going to come back on and we'd be still winning. It was good, they really fought hard.

"When you're walking off, you're thinking that you're going to be the cause of history not happening. But there's a lot of trust there with the lads and they did very well."

Their first half should be the benchmark as Connacht maintained possession of the ball for long stretches and forced Munster to make - and miss - tackle after tackle.

They led 10-0 through the boot of Craig Ronaldson and Tiernan O'Halloran's well-taken try and it might have been more, but the hosts, who missed 22 tackles in a poor first-half effort, struck back through their maul and Niall Scannell touched down.

Discipline

Munster, led by Robin Copeland and Earls, were better after half-time, but Connacht's defensive discipline and breakdown work were excellent and Ronaldson extended their lead to 13-5.

The penalty try brought Anthony Foley's men to within a point and against 14 men they might have expected to kick on, but instead Henshaw - immense in the final quarter - stood up Earls and found Aki for a memorable try.

The scenes that followed showed what it meant to the Westerners. Aki beat his chest before pausing to pray with Munster's Francis Saili, while Marist College and Buccaneers old boys Henshaw and Jack Carty embraced in delight, and veteran campaigners Muldoon, George Naoupu and Ronan Loughney savoured the moment after so many hard days on the road.

There were, Pat Lam explained, some tears in the dressing-room, where Muldoon gave an impassioned address.

"There are a few emotional boys who have been trying for a while. For me coming in, everything we do is about the team," Lam explained. "But the guys who have been here for a long time, and particularly John, I am just so happy for him.

"There were a few watery eyes. He spoke with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion and a lot of pride to his team. I could see how much it meant to him when he spoke to his team.

" And particularly the young boys, us doing what we did with the group that we had. There is 13 players from our academy, all recent graduates. I said to them 'this is your future, this is what it is all about'."

Of those, flanker James Connolly looks to have a big future after a brilliant Pro12 debut, while Denis Buckley was again excellent and Ultan Dillane worked tirelessly.

Meanwhile, old stagers Muldoon, Nathan White and the superb Aly Muldowney contributed hugely.

For Anthony Foley, whose side remain in the top four despite missing the chance to leap-frog Connacht at the top, there were no complaints.

"We don't like to lose at home," he said. "It's a local derby, hotly fought, very physical with a lot of quality out there from both sides and unfortunately we came out the wrong end of it.

"We need to keep level-headed and make sure we get a performance next week."

MUNSTER - A Conway; G van der Heever (D Hurley 51), K Earls, F Saili, L Gonzalez Amorosino; I Keatley, T O'Leary (D Williams 66); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 62), N Scannell, BJ Botha (J Ryan h-t); D Ryan (D Foley 57), M Chisholm; CJ Stander (capt), J O'Donoghue, R Copeland.

CONNACHT - R Henshaw; T O'Halloran (D Leader 69), B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; AJ MacGinty (J Carty 47), K Marmion; D Buckley (R Loughney 55), S Delahunt (D Heffernan 62), N White (F Bealham 59); U Dillane (G Naoupu 64), A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), J Connolly, E Masterson (S O'Brien 57).

Ref - B Whitehouse (Wales)

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