Connacht Rugby's favourite son returns to the west

It was only a matter of time before John Muldoon would return to his roots.

The Connacht legend, who captained the club to PRO12 Championship success, leaves Bristol Bears at the end of the season to come back to his home in Salthill and the Sportground.

During his five years in England with former Connacht coach Pat Lam, he has been exposed to the highest level of rugby in the premiership, helping in no small measure in guiding the club to its first European and Gallagher Premiership titles.

Pat Lam, the former Connacht Rugby head coach, with Bristol, says it was clear when he began working with Muldoon that he would be an excellent coach when his playing days were over, and in years to come with his passion and love for his home province, a possible great homegrown head coach for Connacht Rugby.

Now 40, with three young sons, a newly renovated home in Salthil, and family in Galway, Muldoon returns to the club where he made a record 327 appearances to take responsibility for the line-out and maul. As the only Connacht home-grown player in the current coaching set-up, his passion for his province is undoubted and will be a huge asset.

Working in conjunction with incumbent Colm Tucker, who remains in charge of the scrum and breakdown, Muldoon says he's looking forward to his return.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been five years and I’m really looking forward to moving back to Galway and getting to work with the boys.

“There’s some familiar faces, but a lot of new ones too, since my time there. In that regard I am excited by the blend of young talent coming through within the squad, coupled with the quality and experience of some of the more experienced guys. Dewald’s (Senekal ) done an exceptional job the last two years and I want to build on that over the coming seasons."

“From speaking to Pete (Wilkins ) these last couple of weeks I’m excited about his vision for where he hopes to take the team and I am delighted to be able to play my part on that journey and deliver on the level of ambition that everyone with an interest or involvement in Connacht Rugby is striving to achieve."

Head coach Pete Wilkins says Muldoon’s relationship and shared history with the Sportsground is a brilliant asset.

“To have the continuity of Collie Tucker as a young Irish coach who has come through our system, and Mul, who has been born and bred here, is a real important bit of our coaching group, and and how we balance that for the last remaining positions will be determined, but to have those two guys there is massive."

Wilkins says Muldoon was never afraid to challenge - either his teammates or coaches.

“Whether that was because he wanted to suggest a different way of doing things or a different perspective, his ability to step up and be heard and offer up a different idea was hugely important,” Wilkins says.

“For those who transition from playing to coaching - it’s the hardest thing to master. It’s an attribute as a person and player, and it’s no surprise he’s flourishing now as a coach.”

The announcement is timely as Connacht take on fellow URC opponents Benetton in the Europe's knock-out stages in Treviso.

Familiar foes in the bred and butter competition, this will be the first time the sides have met in Europe, and missing will be outhalf Jack Carty and prop Denis Buckley.

A "lingering" hamstring injury has ruled Carty out of action in Connacht's bid to make the quarter-finals, with David Hawkshaw likely to remain in situ after a confident performance last weekend.

Head coach Pete Wilkins says it is a case of taking Carty's recovery week by week, and while not a major injury, Connacht are not prepared to “roll him out till its right”.

"We want to try to look after look after him as much as possible, so he's certainly rehabbing this week," says Wilkins.However, back in contention are internationals Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen, in addition to fullback Tiernan O'Halloran.

Wilkins, as expected, is wary of the Italians as they head to Treviso, who similiar to Connacht, are still fighting on two fronts. Just four points behind Wilkins’ men in the URC in their bid to make the top eight, they will be primed to take on fellow URC opponents on their own patch, knowing a quarter-final is within reach.

“Benetton will have their returning internationals - a team that thrives at home. There’s a big difference playing them in Italy versus here from our recent experience. They are a big team physically, they tackle well, they are right at the top for gainline and tackle success in defence, so they are hard to break down. Throw in the travel, it’s a little bit warmer than we are used to here, so there are loads of challenges to embrace."

Still in the hunt in both Europe and the URC, Wilkins says it is important to keep fighting on two fronts, coming after a 41-26 win over Edinburgh in their most complete performance of the season.

Edinburgh, with some 366 internationals caps in their starting XV, compared with a single international cap for Connacht’s Caolin Blade, looked favourites, but it was the scrumhalf who sent the Sportsground into rapturous applause when he bagged a hat-trick of tries - his second in four games, having delivered against the Lions in January.

“Potentially our best performance of the season,” said coaching director Andy Friend. “There was so much character shown out there. Our set piece functioned well, our maul defence was the best all year - so much to like out there.”

Having led 27-7 at half-time, Connacht had the game by the scruff of its neck, and although their hold loosened a little in the second half as Edinburgh closed the gap to 27-19 after 47 minutes Andy Friend’s men saw out a scintillating game with six tries to Edinburgh’s four.

Connacht: O McNulty, D Kilgallen, T Farrell, C Forde, J Porch, D Hawkshaw, C Blade (C ), P Dooley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier, O Dowling, N Murray, C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler.Replacements: S Jennings for Kilgallon (48m ), D Robertson-McCoy for Aungier (52 ), D Murray for N Murray (53 ), D Heffernan for Tierney-Martin and J Duggan for Dooley (both 54 ), S Hurley-Langton for Butler (59 ), Daly for Hawkshaw (60 ), K Marmion for Blade (67 ), P Dooley for Duggan (74 ).

 

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