Tuesday 12 December 2017

'There's no delirium - we just expected to win' - Connacht's John Muldoon

Connacht 23 Toulouse 21

Bundee Aki scores his team’s third try of the match during their superb victory against Toulouse. Photo: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki scores his team’s third try of the match during their superb victory against Toulouse. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The stadium announcer pleaded with the Connacht supporters to leave the pitch, no matter, they deserved a moment with their heroes but amidst the pandemonium, John Muldoon gathered the players in a huddle in front of the Clan stand.

The euphoria that greeted the final whistle is becoming a more familiar sound out west and although this was indeed the kind of night that ought to be cherished, gone are the days when beating Toulouse would be considered a 'shock' result.

After all, this was the Pro12 champions beating a French side who have been on a downward spiral since they last pitched up in Galway three years ago.

Connacht have earned their place back amongst Europe's elite and as Pat Lam put it, Saturday night's stunning victory was just the latest step in their journey.

It's been a thrilling journey that has seen Connacht scale dizzy new heights and that is highlighted even more when you consider that in 2013, Toulouse left Galway with a resounding victory for the second time in two years.

Over an hour after the full-time whistle, supporters both young and old were still basking in another famous night at the Sportsground but the business-like body language of the players was noticeable as soon as Muldoon gathered them.

Ultan Dillane of Connacht takes the ball in the lineout. Photo: Sportsfile
Ultan Dillane of Connacht takes the ball in the lineout. Photo: Sportsfile

Sure they enjoyed the moment but they had merely done what they set out to do. There was even a tinge of disappointment from Lam that his side weren't able to claim a bonus point win over the mist successful side in Europe.

That attitude sums up what Lam has brought to Connacht, and Muldoon confirmed that there had been a shift in mindset compared to other famous nights that he had been involved in, in the past.

"There is an expectation level that you are going to win a game like this but the reality is, they have a huge history in this competition," the skipper said.

"We're disappointed in some of the errors that we made, and I suppose that shows you how much we've grown. There is no delirium inside in the changing-room. I've been in a changing-room when you'd maybe beat a team not with the same tradition and there'd be absolute delirium.

Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht scores his side's second try. Photo: Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran of Connacht scores his side's second try. Photo: Sportsfile

"Lads would be jumping off the ceiling and whatever else. I think we've come a long way, and we know that we're making a lot of mistakes still and we know that we can improve our game.

"Everyone is disrespecting Zebre but we're not going to disrespect them next week."

While Connacht may not disrespect the Italians, the fact remains that they shipped 82 points against Wasps on Saturday and Lam will be expecting his side to certainly come away from Parma with four points, if not five.

Loose

Trailing 21-11 at the break, Connacht had to dig deep but there was a realisation that but for a loose five-minute spell, they were the better side.

Sebastien Bezy of Toulouse kicks a penalty. Photo: Sportsfile
Sebastien Bezy of Toulouse kicks a penalty. Photo: Sportsfile

The Connacht front-row were in trouble in the scrum all evening and it cost them 12 points, but they stuck with the expansive game-plan that has got them this far.

Niyi Adeolokun's scintillating 20th-minute try was a microcosm of what Connacht have been like under Lam and it thrilled the Sportsground.

Yann David and Florian Fritz crossed late in the half to put Toulouse 10 points in front. They hardly deserved such a lead but as Muldoon explained, there was never a sense of panic.

"A few people made comments during the week but this is a good team," he said.

"We didn't disrespect them, we knew it was going to be a big challenge. I think some of our fans probably expected (a win) but if you had asked them at half-time where it was going to be, they might have changed their minds."

But the Connacht supporters never lost hope and they had even more realise to believe when Sebastien Bezy inexplicably missed a penalty from right in front of the posts. Six minutes later, Tiernan O'Halloran crossed in the corner to leave just five points (21-16) between the sides heading into the final 20 minutes.

The noise levels went up a notch and after a bruising hour, somehow so too did the Connacht players' energy levels. They patiently went through the phases and man of the moment Bundee Aki found an extra gear to sprint clear and score.

Craig Ronaldson, very much an underrated part of the Connacht backline, stepped up and with his first kick at goal of the game, he sealed another famous victory.

"There's huge belief. Everyone knows their job, everyone fits in," Muldoon enthused.

"I would say that's the extra 5pc you get from being at home and having a big crowd behind you. There's belief in ourselves, there's belief in our ability, but when you've 9,000 crazy western people shouting at you it'll give you that couple of percent that you need.

"Thankfully it was a sold-out crowd, and I don't think there'll be too many teams looking forward to travelling to the Sportsground."

The latest chapter in Connacht's history was written on Saturday night; make no mistake about it, there are more to come.

Connacht - T O'Halloran (S Ili 65); N Adeolokun, B Aki (S O'Leary 78), C Ronaldson, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade (K Marmion 46); F Bealham (R Loughney 68), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 55), C Carey (JP Cooney 52); U Dillane (L Stevenson 73), A Browne; E McKeon (S O'Brien 55), J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).

Toulouse - M Medard; Y Huget (G Fickou 49), F Fritz (capt) (T Flood 68), Y David (G Fickou 22-25), P Perez; JM Doussain, S Bezy; C Baille (K Vasil 41), C Tolofua (J Marchand 47), C Johnston (A Dorian 47); R Gray (G Lamboley 30), J Tekori; F Cros, P Faasalele (T Gray 55), C Axtens (E Maka 69).

ref - L Pearce (Eng)

Irish Independent

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