Muldoon may not be coming home

by Richard Hartmann

Connacht legend John Muldoon is the province’s most decorated player with 327 caps but he says it’s not a given that he will someday return to coach the westerners.

“I don’t know if I’ll come back to Connacht as a coach. I know when I say that, people will laugh and say it has to be your plan but I can resonate with Ronan O’Gara’s situation where people are saying ‘of course that’s his end goal’, but actually it may not be. There’s a lot of pressure if you’re a home-grown coach,” said Muldoon.

On his future plans, Muldoon still seems to have his home province on his mind. “If you do return to your home club, you usually only get one go at it, so you’d better make sure that when you do, it’s the right time, not just for you but for your family and the club. Sometimes people jump into jobs too quickly.”

Muldoon left Galway in 2018 to take up the defense coach job at premiership club Bristol Bears under Connacht’s Pro12 title winning manager, Pat Lam. He was promoted this season to the role of forwards coach at the premiership club.  

Bristol are currently flying high, 12 points clear at the top of the table and Muldoon says he’s enjoying the experience despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“As a family we’ve loved it over here. It was a big call to move. We’ve met lots of nice people and we are enjoying Bristol, but it’s been tough not having any support with a young family,” he said.

Muldoon says that leaving his home province and heading abroad was the best way to get straight into a senior coaching job.

“Jobs are hard to come by in Ireland and coaches have to leave to get opportunities. There seems to be a long, drawn-out pathway to get into jobs. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but you seem to have to cut your teeth in the academy and progress through there, then hopefully get Irish under-18 or under-20 honours before you get into a senior coaching position,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem too easy to get into one of those jobs. You seem to have to cut your teeth for ten years before one of those jobs open-up. I always felt I was going to have to leave to get this kind of opportunity. I didn’t want to have to do ten years to get to get the chance,” he said.

This month it was announced that two of Connacht’s senior home-grown coaches, Nigel Carolan and Jimmy Duffy are also leaving the province and some are concerned that the identity of the province will suffer.

“Ultimately it’s disappointing to see two Connacht men leave who understand the importance of what the club means to the community. From a selfish point of view, I can completely understand why Jimmy and Nigel are leaving,” said Muldoon.

“I suppose ultimately it’s the same reason I left. To get away and challenge yourself and experience something different, to get out of their comfort zone. But there’s no reason why they can’t go away and be successful and return to Ireland someday.”

When asked if it was a difficult decision to leave his home club Muldoon is pragmatic. “I’m very proud of the fact that I was a one club man in terms of my playing career but for a number of years I was keen and interested in getting into coaching,” he said.

“I was fortunate enough to have two opportunities to leave on the table when I retired and one of them was here. It was a no brainer for me to get this level of job and to work with Pat in a senior setup. To have that opportunity straight out of my playing career was fantastic.”

As well as now learning his coaching skills under Lam’s tutelage, Muldoon explained that the New Zealander had a big influence at more than one crossroads in his playing career.

“When I got close to 30 and was signing my defining contract with Connacht, which would decide if I’d stay or go, Pat came in. If the setup had stayed the same, I would have left but because the coach changed, it gave me an opportunity to stay and try something different,” he said.

“Funnily enough when Pat left Connacht I was at another crossroads in my career, and I spoke to him about this recently, and told him that if he had stayed on I was going to retire but when he left for Bristol I decided to stay for another year and challenge myself under a new coach.”

“I’m still trying to learn and I’m making a lot of mistakes as I go along. I’m lucky to be in a young coaching group where we’re trying to think outside the box and to not follow the crowd in what we do and how we react.”

“That’s what Pat did in Connacht too and nothing has changed. Having a young coaching group who want to try new things is why I’m enjoying it at the moment.”

More on Connacht rugby here.

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