Wednesday 26 June 2019

'He really pushed us hard and made sure that we didn't regret anything'

The Big Interview: Craig Ronaldson

John Muldoon is ready to offer support as Craig Ronaldson is tackled during a Celtic League clash against Ospreys in the 2013-14 season. Photo: Sportsfile
John Muldoon is ready to offer support as Craig Ronaldson is tackled during a Celtic League clash against Ospreys in the 2013-14 season. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

John Muldoon's team-mates are desperate to give him a fitting send-off at the Sportsground, and a win over inter-provincial rivals Leinster in front of his home fans would soften the blow after a difficult campaign for Connacht in 2017/18.

Craig Ronaldson is one of the playing staff who learned plenty from the example set by his esteemed colleague from Portumna.

And ever since the former Lansdowne man arrived in Galway he knew Muldoon was someone he could learn a lot from.

The 28-year-old out-half, who can also play at centre, operates in an entirely different position on the pitch. But the fierce work ethic and willingness to succeed that his captain exudes has been infectious.

"He has just been ever-present since I have been here. Since I arrived down here first, John was someone you obviously knew of, but then as you get to know him he is a great lad on and off the pitch," said Ronaldson.

"Just his durability and pushing guys week in and week out. He was trying to get the best out of everybody. He would stand out, how he would rarely have dips. He was always so consistent.

"With his calming influence and decision making he was such a smart tactician. He would understand the game really well. He would always be clear on what he wanted you to do. That always helped when you have someone backing you up and helping you to make the right decisions. Those were the things that stood out to me.

"When we started getting that good run to the PRO12 title. He was one of the main ones to stand up. There was a good few on that team, but he is one of the guys who brought the team together and said this is a chance for something special.

"He really pushed us hard in training and made sure that we didn't regret anything. It was a situation where he was getting the most out of us in training and making sure guys were ready that come matchday we didn't disappoint.

"It was probably him and a few other guys that got us over the line in the end."

Ronaldson became a Connacht player in 2013 and since then he has scored eight tries in 84 appearances.

This season Kieran Keane has decided to use him more as an out-half and that brought about its own challenges, as the Kildare native had to revert back to type.

"It's been enjoyable playing at 10. I hadn't played there for a while previously to when I first started getting a run there again this season. It felt like ages since I had played there," said Ronaldson.

"It's been good. I always thought originally that I could play both and then Pat Lam started to see me more as a centre. I got used to that a bit more.

"You are the first pair of hands. I am still getting my head around that."

The former Kilkenny College student has found it difficult to switch straight back from inside centre but has gradually started to find his feet again.

Jack Carty has controlled the 10 jersey for much of 2017/18 but Ronaldson knows opportunity knocks over the summer months. And he is determined to help Connacht to victory over Leo Cullen's side tomorrow.

"We want to finish the season well. That's probably the big motivating factor for us coming into this game. There probably isn't a lot to play for, league wise for us, so that is going to be a massive motivation for everyone involved," said Ronaldson.

"We want to give the likes of 'Mul' and Andrew Browne a good send-off. Guys who have been around for a long while. For everyone who is leaving and for the organisation we want to finish on a positive note.

"For the fans as well who have supported us through some difficult times this year, we want to give them reason to be bouncing out the gate, and looking forward to next season.

"Not just for sending guys off, everyone wants to put their best foot forward. Kieran Keane said he is looking at guys with regards to next season as well. Every chance you get that's a motivating factor."

The results of the last two seasons have been tough for everyone at Connacht Rugby with Lam gone and Keane taking the reins at the beginning of this season.

There has been a big overhaul in the coaching set-up and the squad will continue to formulate a new look in the coming months.

But they are exciting times too, and Ronaldson knows that there is a real potential for Connacht to return to the highs of 2016 if players take ownership next season.

"It is going to be different next season. It will be weird not have 'Mul' and 'Brownie' around, they have been there for years," said Ronaldson.

"It's going to require a lot guys to step up and fill the void left behind. Guys are going to have to take on the bigger leadership roles, especially some of the younger guys.

"Everyone is going to have to play their part in bringing the squad up to a new level, and holding everyone accountable which is what those guys were good at. That is one thing looking forward that is going to have to be done.

"But there will be new faces and a new dynamic in the squad. Once everyone refreshes over the summer there is always that buzz about what might be. That's where we have to get it to.

"Everyone will have their role to play in providing that buzz and bringing the squad on next year."

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