Ex-Chief pitches tent in Galway and settles into big task
Former Exeter man eager to drive Connacht to new heights after nailing down second-row spot
After making his 50th Pro12 appearance against Scarlets last weekend, Aly Muldowney is one of the more experienced the second-rows in Pat Lam's squad.
But then again, when you take Michael Swift out of the mix, the average age of the other locks that have started this season is shy of 24.
And the 31-year-old from Stafford in England knows he is just coming into his own for Connacht.
"By most experienced you mean the oldest?" he jokes. "I am one of the oldest but you have to think about all of those professional rugby players who have lasted a lot longer and played until they are a lot older than I am.
"But you still have to help as much as you can with the younger guys.
"Quinn Roux, Mick Kearney and Andrew Browne are some of the more established players, but we do look to help Ultan Dillane with things every now and again.
"You can see he is a very raw talent and he has got such huge potential so hopefully we can help him fulfil that. It is not just down to the coaches but the players around him have to do their bit.
"It has been brilliant for me this year, obviously minus my six weeks out with concussion. I really enjoyed it and it has been really good."
Muldowney has played 36 times for Connacht, scoring two tries, both of which have come this season. He has started alongside Roux in four of the last five games and he believes that is important to strike up a partnership, especially in such a pivotal position.
"We are doing well together at the moment. It is what started at the end of last year with Mick as well, it is good when you get a few more games together," he says.
"You get that consistency which you lose when there is a lot of chopping and changing. Me and Quinn spoke about the way we were playing, we were really happy. But we know we both need to step up our game if we want to help the team finish in the top six.
"Quinn is really good lad. He is a really good player and we get on well. Hopefully we can keep the partnership together. But we have to keep the standards up because Mick, Brownie and the other guys are all top-quality players as well.
"So if we slip up at all they can come in quite easily and take our place for the rest of the season. Everyone is back fit and rearing to go.
"It is great to be pushing the young guys on and there is a depth there at the moment, like for the Scarlets game there was me and Quinn starting, with Ultan on the bench.
"We know we have to perform and keep doing our job because there are others there who can take our places if we don't perform to the required standard."
Muldowney, who once tried his hand at basketball, is enjoying life in the west of Ireland and he, his wife Samantha and their three kids are settled in Galway. With 18 months left on his contract he has a certain reassurance about what lies ahead but he wants to fight to bring Connacht on even further as a team.
"I just want to play well for Connacht, build from there and see how far we can go as a team and then hopefully stay on here because me and my family are really settled and we will see what happens," he says.
"The team can go far - we have had a good year and we are getting better. But now we just need to up our consistency and cut out our small errors because teams will capitalise on them if we don't.
Muldowney began his professional career with Glasgow; he stayed in the Scottish capital for one season and played 14 times, scoring two tries before moving to Exeter.
The Chiefs are often compared to Connacht for their culture and sense of community, and having made 46 appearance in two years for the English Premiership side before moving to the Sportsground, Muldowney recognises the similarities.
"They were always the underdog as well. The team's success was built around team culture and Pat has been big around team culture here too," he says.
"The squads are similar as well, they are usually smaller and they haven't got as many superstars as other clubs. The team really has to come together and fight for their success. So it is quite similar to Connacht in that sense.
"At the moment me and my family are more settled here at Connacht. This is our favourite place that we have lived in. You look back and think that it was nice but I prefer where I am now."
Having played against his former employers twice this seasons and suffered defeats on both occasions Muldowney's ears must have pricked when the draw came out for the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup.
A win for Exeter at home to Newcastle and a Kingsholm success for Connacht over Gloucester would set up a dream semi-final against the Chiefs in the Sportsground but Muldowney isn't getting carried away.
"Of course that would be great but we have got Gloucester away first, which won't be easy. It will be a big challenge, I have played there before. There will be a great atmosphere - their fans really get behind their team.
"They have been going well this year after a slow start and now they are really picking up the pace. It will be a great game but we can't look at anything past our next league game against the Dragons."