John Muldoon says goodbye to Connacht in style
JOHN Muldoon had done many things but never in his 15 years had he scored in an interprovincial match. You can imagine the pre-match chatter. “Lads, if we’re hosing them, let’s make sure we give Mul a chance to score!” They couldn’t let him down; nor he, them.
Aided and abetted by a shocking show from the visitors, when Caolin Blade dotted down the seventh – yes, seventh – try with five minutes left, up stepped Muldoon to add the extras.
Cian Healy did his best to rush him; after 15 years and 326 games, ‘Mul’ had all the time in the world. The kick was nailed, the 47th point of a record interprovincial win for his side, and a clean home sweep in the series for the season. He apologised if it felt he had embarrassed Leinster; he didn’t have to. “I’d like to thank everyone who came out. I’m privileged to have been part of this and I just wanted us to do us proud today. This will always be my home,” he said.
A fond farewell, then and, mercifully for Muldoon and all present, one that didn’t need to be delivered with any sense of meek embarrassment. Leinster owned the rights to that emotion, hot on the heels of their Treviso humbling, a record caning in Galway serving to emphasise the vast gap between their star side and its shadow; none advanced their cause here.
Jordi Murphy was a late withdrawal after feeling “tightness”; it may have been a knot in his stomach; certainly the rest of his colleagues were gripped by a violent form of travel sickness.
In every way, though, Leinster were a sideshow. The last thing Connacht wanted was a damp squib on a dry day to spoil the party; as if designed by script, they chose the first half to deliver their most clinical display of the campaign; moments into the second half, they had already secured the bonus point.
Leinster had just two touches in the first three minutes; first, when Tom Daly coughed up the kick-off and, second, when Joey Carbery kicked off himself after the concession of a try.
In between times, Connacht had benefited from Daly’s blunder to retain the ball for multiple phases, before bursting through the middle when Shane Delahunt picked up and galloped away from an absent ruck pillar.
From the recycling close to the line, Connacht eventually spun the ball left to right, calmly through the hands — deftly by Tom Farrell in his case — before Niyi Adeolokun sprinted though Daly’s despairing tackle.
Jack Carty’s conversion launched the party in style; Muldoon’s lineout steal released even more exultation for the sell-out crowd basking in the windless, sun-drenched atmosphere.
A lost lineout during a rare sortie into Leinster territory seemed to undo the good work but, as James Lowe attempted to shift the ball in midfield, his impetuous pop pass was gobbled up by the advancing Tiernan O’Halloran, who completed the 40-metre run to the line unmolested.
Suddenly it was 14-3 after 28 minutes and Leinster’s apparent dominance was mocked by the scoreboard.
Carbery hoicked his restart directly into touch as the crowd, regaining their spirits, sensed blood, the red stuff coursing through Finlay Bealham as he screwed Jack McGrath in the subsequent scrummage.
From the lineout possession on the 22, Leinster’s tactic of standing off rucks was punished once more by the ever-alert Delahunt, who poached another ball and gambolled into vacant green grass; Kieran Marmion offered support and, despite the attentions of a trio of blue shirts, managed to get the ball down beneath the posts, confirmed by the TMO. Dreamy stuff, really; 21-3 ahead with the kettle on the boil.
It couldn’t last, could it? Of course it could. And how. Less than two minutes after tea-time, Delahunt was central to his side’s bonus point try, the pick of the quartet so far. His fingerprints were all over it; from the steal deep in his own half, ripping the ball off Max Deegan, before trailing Tom Farrell’s mazy run, ending up on the right-wing and popping a delicious off-load out the back door to Adeolokun, who did the rest. It was 26-3 now and the Leinster shadow side were already retreating for the gate.
The home side opened them a bit wider in the 50th minute, Carty’s wonderfully disguised chip over the defence finding O’Halloran who passed to Marmion for another run-in, untouched. Abject Leinster were now 33-3 down as they emptied the bench, for all the world merely an exercise in deckchair arrangement.
Connacht’s enthusiasm got the better of them but who could blame them? Barry Daly scorched the earth down the right wing for a consolation try but Connacht added two more from Bundee Aki and Caolin Blade. They didn’t have the last word, though. That was left to Muldoon.
John Muldoon leads Connacht out for the last time in Galway yesterday, accompanied by his nieces Emma and Lily. Photo: Brendan Moran