Spare a thought for John Muldoon. For nearly a decade and a half, the Rugby gravy train in Ireland has hurtled along. For much of that time though, the locomotive only ran on three engines. It was as if Connacht didn’t exist. Indeed, as the excellent documentary shown by TG4 proved, disgraceful attempts were made to make that factually correct. Thankfully, with the likes of Eric Elwood about, that was never going to happen.
Since being belatedly granted the same status as Leinster, Munster and Ulster, it has been justified. They may not be at the same level as the other three, but they didn’t get where are overnight by any means either.
Aside from material results, the last remaining imbalance was in terms of the Ireland squad. For some time now, this corner has been championing the causes of players like Ronan Loughney, Gavin Duffy, Tiernan O’Halloran and Niall O’Connor for exactly that. Though the latter’s return to Ulster won’t have done his chances much good with Paddy Jackson holding sway up there and the likes of Jonathan Sexton, Ronan O’Gara, Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan in the frame.
To be honest, Muldoon wouldn’t have come into the equation at that stage. Purely because not enough was known about him due to the lack of exposure Connacht used to be afforded. He has, however, been the fulcrum of everything they have achieved since their belated emergence from the shadows.
Thus earning a deserved call into the Irish setup. Which leads us to the point that brought this column about. John recently got another chance in the Ireland jersey during the landslide victory over Fiji. Devastatingly for him, and unspeakably cruelly, the outing only lasted a few minutes as he sustained a knee injury that’s liable to keep him out for some time.
Bad as that is, the fact that the time he was on the field wasn’t officially recorded is a total travesty. Ditto Craig Gilroy’s three tries and all the contributions made by players in Thomond Park. Owing to the farcical decision not to award caps for the match. The reasoning for this preposterous decision stands up less than certain people not a million miles away!
The story being spun was that had Ireland lost to Fiji, their positioning in the supposedly crucial top eight of the world rankings would’ve been under threat. Such thinking hardly carries weight. For one thing, it wasn’t exactly giving off much confidence in the Irish players. And for another, with Wales and Scotland seemingly in freefall, the chances of their ranking being usurped were slim. Besides, a top eight berth doesn’t guarantee avoiding one of the big boys in the forthcoming World Cup draw.
Anyway, despite the outlined misgivings, the above game did carry merit. Foremost among which was Gilroy’s hat-trick. He backed it up when running in Ireland’s first try in their surprisingly easy win over Argentina the following week. Others, such as Simon Zebo, Chris Henry and Mike McCarthy built on the progress already made. Richard Strauss and the much talked about Michael Bent also look like useful additions to the national squad. Do I agree with how Bent was parachuted in? Most definitely not, but so far he’s justified being there and more luck to him.
The thing now as to build upon – the collapse against the Springboks aside – what has been a useful winter series. In other words, put up a better performance in the new year. With Scotland and Wales seemingly struggling and England not exactly running away, the Six Nations could easily boil down to Ireland and France.
That the team was in need of surgery was obvious. What’s been surprising, pleasantly, has been to observe that Declan Kidney recognises that fact and is actually being proactive in doing something about it. There’s no doubt the Irish team could reap significant rewards from a bit of structural redesign. Hopefully it turns out to be that and not just window dressing!