No limit to Mul's passion for the cause
Dedicated captain will be sorely missed at Sportsground
Before there was the Clan Stand or New Stand, there was the Old Stand at the Sportsground. The first time I saw John Muldoon I was sitting in the terrace of this Old Stand watching a schools rugby game, and I remember asking a friend who the two big lads were in front of us.
John was with his brother, Ivan, and was wearing his new Irish Youths tracksuit. I'm sure if you had asked him then he would have been ambitious about his rugby future, but could only have dreamt of the impact he would go on to have on the game in the west.
Of all the players I've played with, John Muldoon is the player that I admire the most. The simple reason for this is that for 15 years I had a front-row seat to the influence and impact he had on the people and players around him.
What's remarkable about that influence is that it was as obvious to me as a member of the Connacht U-21 squad he captained 16 years ago, as it was when I played my final game for Connacht last year.
They say that leadership is taking responsibility while others are making excuses, and I think this saying epitomised how John operated throughout his career.
While a lot of others made excuses around the lack of resources available to us at Connacht over the years, John was always one to challenge players, coaches and staff to make the most of what was available. He always felt that it was within ourselves to change people's perceptions of who we were, and what we were capable of as a team and organisation.
Leading from the front is a much-used term but what amazed me about John was the consistency with which he did simple things well. Self-admittedly not the fastest and not the strongest, but a serious rugby brain, coupled with an unmatched work rate, meant he always performed admirably.
There are very few people in the game who have had as substantial an impact at a professional club. In this ever more attritional and financially rewarding environment, it is hard to picture anyone committing their career to a club for such a long period of time.
Over the years, I know Mul had numerous approaches and no doubt lucrative offers to go to other clubs. In the earlier years of his career when you could count the wins in a season on one hand that would have been the easy decision to take, and is a decision that many before him took. However, integrity, loyalty and pride in his home province meant he never put financial gain before what he stood for.
A coach once said to me that you have to start thinking like a coach when you are playing and if you do the benefits are massive. The same coach also said that John had started to do this some time back and that his game was incomparable thereafter.
His team-mates will know that for a long time he has been a coach in waiting. John's rugby brain has been crucial to his success as a player and leader over the years, and it will now continue to be of benefit to him as he embarks on his professional coaching career in the English Premiership.
I remember a conversation I once had with Johnny O'Connor, about when he departed Connacht all those years ago, it was always with the intention of garnering as much experience and knowledge as possible and eventually bringing this newly-acquired knowledge back to his home club.
When John moves into the next phase of his career as defence coach in Bristol next season, I know I would not be alone in hoping that someday he too will return to his home province with the new coaching skills he has picked up along the way, and that unique ability to influence and impact the people around him.
Leinster come to Galway tomorrow where they will continue their march towards a potential cup and league double in the coming months. On paper, Connacht have no chance or reason to beat them, but funnily enough these are the games over the years where Connacht have managed to raise their game to a different level.
I know that not one of the players taking the field will need a more fitting excuse to put in the performance of the season and give their captain, team-mate and friend the send-off he deserves.
Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.