Saturday 17 February 2018

Connacht legend Muldoon to call time on career

Finest hour: Muldoon raises the Pro12 trophy after Connacht’s win in 2016. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Finest hour: Muldoon raises the Pro12 trophy after Connacht’s win in 2016. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It says a lot about the character of John Muldoon that when Connacht came calling this time last year, asking him to stay on with the province for an extra season, he didn't hesitate in committing for a final swansong.

Having learned the previous month that Pat Lam was jumping ship to Bristol, it was imperative that Connacht had someone from the old guard left to help with the coaching transition.

And who better than Muldoon to help steady the ship?

Coming to the end of yet another journey, at 34, no one would have blamed him if, after 16 years, he had had enough, but that outcome was never likely as soon as Connacht CEO Willie Ruane came knocking.

A man for the ages, Muldoon personifies not only what it means to be from Connacht, but from the west of Ireland as a whole.

His hard-working, no-nonsense approach on the pitch is matched with that of his laid-back but articulate nature off it.

When the Portumna native agreed his one-year contract extension last January, he did so with the assumption that he wasn't going to play as often this season.

Yet here we are, 19 games into the new campaign and Muldoon has missed out just three times.

Sport doesn't always provide the rewards for the relentless commitment that players put in over the years, but the sight of Muldoon lifting the PRO12 trophy in Murrayfield in May 2016 was one of those special moments in the history of Irish rugby.

The Westerners had endured a roller-coaster journey to get to that point; from the brink of being disbanded to being crowned champions, Muldoon has been there every step of the way.

"We had a bet earlier in the year," the skipper said on the pitch afterwards, fighting back the tears.

"Twenty euro that if we won it, I wouldn't cry. But it's the best 20 quid I will ever spend."

Not even the staunchest Leinster supporter would deny Muldoon winning that particular bet.

From the difficult early days when he didn't see eye-to-eye with the then head coach Michael Bradley, Muldoon has always refused to take no for an answer.

Having been told that he had firstly "hit his ceiling" and later that he was "overachieving", Muldoon kept his head down and got on with it.

Other clubs tried to tempt him from the place he calls home, where he is adored by the Connacht faithful, but he stuck by them through thick and thin, and has lasted far longer than some predicted.

To have played at the highest level for 17 years, making 319 appearances - and counting - is a remarkable testament to his durability and ability.

Muldoon never quite got the international recognition he probably deserved but even still, no one can take away the three Ireland caps he won.

He made his debut against Canada on the 2009 North American tour before playing USA a week later. His third and final cap against the All Blacks in 2010 would be curtailed when he broke his arm, and since then, apart from the odd game for the Wolfhounds, Muldoon has been totally dedicated to the Westerners' cause.

"Seventeen years, 320 games," he wrote in a typically poignant statement.

"Broken bones. Big wins. Bad losses. Dozens of team-mates. Fewer coaches. Europe. Russia. Celtic League. Pro12. Pro14. Flights. Buses. Friends. Supporters.

"I've been so proud to be part of it all, but every journey sadly must come to an end and for me that end will be this season. Thank you all for your endless support."

In more recent times, Muldoon's influence off the pitch has been just as important, and it would come as no surprise to anyone if Connacht look to keep him involved in some capacity when he calls it a day at the end of the season.

Kieran Keane has begun a new journey with Connacht and while this will be Muldoon's last, he will have his sights set on going out on a high - lifting the Challenge Cup in Bilbao this May would be just that.

The word 'legend' is used a lot these days, but Muldoon unquestionably fits the bill.

He has given absolutely everything to Connacht and long after he has hung up his boots, his impact will still be felt out west.

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