Young guns are taking Connacht to the next level -- Muldoon
John Muldoon believes that Connacht rugby is now at its strongest since the game went professional because of all the young talent they have developed.
Muldoon, now in his 11th season with the Westerners, having played 208 games, reckons they are soon going to be a force to be reckoned with.
He paid tribute to the work of academy manager Nigel Carolan and his team of coaches, who have brought through a conveyor belt of underage talent. It was a proud moment for the province when they started against Leinster last week with an all-Irish backline -- four of them born in Connacht -- and an all-Galway back row.
"It's probably the one thing we've been missing over the years compared to the other provinces," said the 31-year-old.
"We need the majority of our players to be from Connacht, then you dress it up with the Irish-born players and you bring in the likes of Dan Parks, Nathan White and Craig Clarke and you've got a good side.
"Unfortunately over the years we've probably had to bring in players and then dress it up with the Connacht lads, but it's starting to change and that has been the big focus in Connacht rugby over the past few years."
Muldoon will make his 50th European appearance for Connacht tomorrow against Zebre.
The first 38 of them came in the Amlin Challenge Cup, a competition he would love to play in again in April if Connacht can pull off a couple of good results and qualify for the quarter-finals of the secondary tournament.
"The focus for us is to come out and beat Zebre. There's not much point in watching what happens between Toulouse and Saracens," he said. "That said, if Toulouse go and beat Saracens, it comes down to the Allianz Park clash (Saracens against Connacht) next week, but first we've got to beat Zebre.
"I've been involved in a lot of great days as well in the Amlin, so there's a lot to play for over the next weeks. It would be great to remain in Europe in whatever way possible.
"There are some quality teams still in it, but I think we'd be quietly confident if we got into the quarter-finals. It has been a great competition for us in the past."
Connacht will go into tomorrow's game at the Sportsground as clear favourites, having defeated Zebre twice already this season, and Muldoon knows they have to deliver on expectation.
"As a professional team you have to take that on the chin. We of all people know that being favourites doesn't mean anything," he said. "We know all about being underdogs. There is no danger that we are going to underestimate them."