Tuesday 17 September 2019

John Muldoon: Back on Irish soil after Russian odyssey, the wind and rain felt like the Med

Captain John Muldoon with frost in his beard following training in Krasnoyarsk last week
Captain John Muldoon with frost in his beard following training in Krasnoyarsk last week

John Muldoon

After spending almost a week in Russia and a week in each other's pockets, it's a nice thing to be able to say that none of the delays that we had on the way home from Krasnoyarsk have spoiled a trip to remember for us.

For sure, spending a couple of days in an airport will test anyone's patience, but even when we were leaving Dublin Airport in the team bus, there was still a good buzz amongst the players about the past week we had.

The whole experience would have been the perfect rugby trip, apart from the problem with our charter flight back home. That delay and the flight cancellation that followed caused us to have problems with our Russian visas, which meant our arrival into Galway by midnight on Saturday didn't happen until 2.0pm on Tuesday afternoon.

But despite all the strife on the way back I have some great memories from playing Enisei.

There was plenty of relief to be home for sure, after getting there via a few different airports - Krasnoyarsk, Moscow, Amsterdam, London, Dublin and Shannon - and it took eight flights instead of the one. But the positives from the trip far outweigh the hitches.

Top of the list is the fact that we won the game, gained a bonus point and played some great rugby in some of the most testing conditions imaginable. It took us a bit of time to come to terms with our opponents and the conditions, but it was very pleasing to score four tries in the second half.


It was so cold at times, that severe drops in temperature became unnoticeable. In fact when we got back on to Irish soil the wind and rain felt like a trip to the Mediterranean.

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The welcome that we all received from Enisei, their supporters and the locals was incredible. Because we were out there a couple of days earlier than we usually do for away trips, we got to spend a good bit of time around the city, looking at the sites and meeting the locals. They were all delighted to see a professional rugby team in their city.

Training out there was a real experience though. As the week went on it got colder and colder. At times you could hardly feel your hands and feet. Temperatures went from a balmy -10C when we arrived to a not so pleasant -27C on the morning of the match. We were all togged out with plenty of base layers and woolly hats and gloves, but it was still tough to force yourself to perform in those conditions.

One factor with playing in such severe conditions is that the cold suppresses your thirst - no matter how hard you train. As a result the coaches were always on to us to rehydrate, which was not the easiest thing to do in those conditions.

We also didn't have our usual drinks bottles with us which made for plenty of spillages and, from what we all saw, Inpho photographer James Crombie's photo of me with the frozen beard. He has a great eye for capturing the moment perfectly and it's fair to say I was pretty chilly at that point! It was the same on match day when all the subs were huddled together on the bench under the blankets; that photo perfectly summed up the week.

One thing that helped the players through the week was the way we were encouraged to interact with the various media that were on the trip. We noticed a brilliant reaction through social media from the various videos that Claire Murphy put together, all the interviews that Louise Creedon did as well as the photos from James.

Seeing as it was such a different rugby trip, it was great to be able to give everyone back home an insight into the journey and it made for some top-notch content.

On that note, it's only right to pay tribute to the 20 or so Connacht supporters who made the journey. It was a real planes, trains and auto-mobiles effort.

By the Thursday before the match you could see them starting to appear in the town, the green hats and scarves were easy to pick out and were put to good use.

I understand that one to two of them indulged in a few medicinal libations before the game which got them as far as half-time, but the cold set in after that and everyone struggled! But seriously, it was amazing to see them there for us, it was really appreciated by the team and it got us through some difficult moments on the field.

There is no dressing it up though; the three-day delay has hampered our preparations for tomorrow's home game with Brive.

They have gotten off to a great start in the Top 14 and picked up a fine win against Newcastle last weekend. I'm sure they'll be looking at all our troubles getting home and will be rubbing their hands together.

But once we got home and rested up, our preparations got into full flow.

Yes, we missed a couple of sessions, but we've been together since June and missing a couple of days is no excuse for us: we know each other well enough at this stage.

Like all French sides they are a big, tough, physical outfit, but they also have the skills to throw the ball around and be a real threat out wide. We'll have to be on the ball to win tomorrow.

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