Muldoon battling to save pride -- and beard
WHEN you are on a run of 10 straight defeats, you do anything to break the cycle and there are those in Connacht who believe a scissors could be the best way forward.
John Muldoon has long been an inspirational figure in Connacht and last week the Portumna man signed a deal to keep him at the Sportsground for another two years. However, some supporters are wondering whether the 29-year-old has put a hex on his team's performances or, more specifically, whether his facial hair is the jinx -- Muldoon has been sporting a lumberjack beard for the past couple of months.
"I've been hearing that I'm a jinx," says Muldoon with a wry chuckle. "There are lads saying I need to shave off this beard because since it came in we haven't won a game. I don't know, I would do anything if I thought we could get the win, but I think I've been playing okay, I'm just incredibly frustrated by the run we are on."
The latest reverse came in Kingsholm last weekend in a match where Connacht were written off against a Gloucester side who had come away from the Sportsground with a victory the week before and were expecting an easy triumph in front of their own supporters.
Those fans were booing Gloucester's efforts for much of that Heineken Cup Pool 6 clash as Connacht produced a performance of skill and application, scoring a superb off-loading try, rounded off by Tiernan O'Halloran, and were leading going into the final minutes.
However, it was an all-too-familiar tale of endgame agony for Connacht as a missed tackle saw Gloucester strike for the winning try.
"Devastation is the only way to describe the dressing-room," says Muldoon. "We knew we had to front-up after performing poorly the week before and I thought we did that, so to lose after playing so well was incredibly frustrating.
"Kingsholm is a tough place to go and they probably were expecting us to lie down, but that is not something Connacht ever do. We went out there to make a point and we did, it was just heart-breaking to lose the way we did.
"Speaking to their players afterwards, they knew they were very fortunate to win and a lot of them used the word 'robbery' which tells its own story, but that is no consolation either."
Connacht have waited so long to play Heineken Cup rugby that there was an incredible sense of anticipation around the province when Leinster's triumph last season granted them entry. The off-pitch preparations were a huge success, more than 9,000 turning out when Toulouse came to Galway, but the results have made it a bittersweet experience for Muldoon.
"It's been a great to be in the Heineken Cup, but there is no denying the results have soured it. Toulouse were too good for us, but the other three games (versus Harlequins and Gloucester, twice) were massively frustrating because we know we could have got the wins."
Last week, hooker Ethienne Reynecke was moved to post a passionate blog in response to internet comments from disgruntled supporters and Muldoon echoed those sentiments when calling on Connacht fans to have faith in the work being put in and the desire to win.
"The supporters, by and large, have been superb, but when they see us losing games we should be winning, they are obviously hugely disappointed. They pay money to see us play and some feel they are not getting value.
"Some of them wanted to vent their frustration and they are entitled to. Ethienne and a few of the lads were reading some comments and were ticked off and he wanted to get the message across that we're trying everything we can to turn this around. We are not just turning up, we are putting the work in."
Not least Muldoon, playing extremely well in the back-row. The Irish international would love to be involved with the national squad again next year, but is realistic as to his prospects given the strength of competition and says his priority is Connacht ending that demoralising losing run.
"I have been pretty happy with my form -- although when I was filling in at open-side, I was getting slagged for being the 'fattest No 7 in rugby'.
"I would love to get back with Ireland, but there is a conveyer belt of quality back-rows here -- the weekend of the Harlequins match I got a text from one of my friends saying 'well played last night, but Ferris got man of the match for Ulster, Peter O'Mahony got man of the match for Munster and Sean O'Brien is Sean O'Brien ... unlucky'.
"I am just concentrating on getting a win for Connacht and keeping my performances levels up and it doesn't get any easier. We knew this run of fixtures was going to stretch our squad and we have Munster next in Thomond Park. It is going to take something special to turn this around."
Whether that includes a trip to the barbers remains to be seen.