Just as one door closes another one opens up almost immediately for John Muldoon.
After a stellar career, which saw the one-club man make an incredible 327 appearances for Connacht, the 35-year-old will go from player to coach as he links up with Pat Lam’s Bristol next season.
Muldoon will be employed as Bristol’s defence coach and he will look to apply his wealth of knowledge as the club returns to the Premiership after winning the Championship at a canter [Bristol finished with 103 points, losing just one game].
There will be no shortage of familiar faces at Ashton Gate next season for the Portumna man. In addition to Lam, former Connacht assistant coach Conor McPhillips is also part of the setup. In terms of the playing squad, Muldoon will have to contend with the other side of the coin as he will now be coaching players he formerly played alongside. Aly Muldowney, one of Connacht’s best-performing players in their PRO12 winning season and Jake Heenan, who will join the English club during the summer, will both now be under the tutelage of Muldoon.
The Connacht legend admits that although it might be a bit weird at first, Muldoon’s age-profile, especially over Heenan, should ease the transition.
“I think being a little bit older helps with that. Jake has been calling me coach since it came out a couple of months ago!” Muldoon told Pundit Arena.
“It’s been a bit funny and I obviously have a good relationship with Aly from playing with him. We’ve stayed in contact since he’s been in France and I have a good relationship with him. But yeah, I’ll have to lay the chips down very quickly with Aly and Jake! We’ll figure it out!”
Although the job title is as a defence coach, Muldoon isn’t naive to think that is what he will solely be focussing on. The nature of the sport and rugby coaching in general means that he will likely be in involved in much more than that.
“Pat is very transparent so he can allow you to do a lot of things. While it says defence there is still an avenue to help out with forwards and an avenue to help out where needed. It’s not a set structure where you only do defence and sit on your laurels and wait for the other person to get out and finish his time.
“It will be very open. Me being the rookie member of the squad, I’ll be looking for help off some of the other lads and vice versa if they need help with any areas I’d be more than happy to help.”
How the move came about is interesting. Muldoon has always maintained a good relationship with Lam and McPhillips, even when the duo departed for England. Once the pair attended one of Connacht’s PRO14 fixtures in Cardiff, they sounded out the potential idea by asking whether Muldoon was retiring at the end of the season. It was only a few months later that Muldoon made his final decision but in typical fashion, it was somehow leaked to the press just days after he decided upon the move himself.
“I’m still quite friendly with Pat and Conor McPhillips. I met Pat in Cardiff, we played a match against Cardiff and he came over to watch the game, him and Conor. He asked me afterwards if I was continuing to play on next year and I said ‘no that was me [done]’. He asked me again because he asked me the previous year if I was playing on and I said I was undecided!
“I had firmly made my mind up at the stage, that must have been late October. I told Willie [Ruane] at the end of the week that I was going to hang up my boots and again, it wasn’t a big surprise to Willie, but I wasn’t in contact with Pat until after Christmas.
“The funny thing is, I spoke to Pat on the Friday about potentially having an option or to see if there was anything available in Bristol and the following Tuesday it broke in the paper so some journalist has my phone tapped obviously! It was far from done at that stage, it was one initial chat over the phone so yeah it was strange how it got out that quick.”
It’s no surprise that Muldoon wanted to work with Lam again, the two are very close and Lam’s philosophy on the game is infectious, something which attracted the Connacht man to the position.
“For him, it probably felt like he could do some similar work that he had done in Connacht in Bristol and try to grow the community of rugby, grow the team and grow the ethos and culture of the team. It was probably a good fit for Pat, just like Connacht was.
“Ultimately, when Pat and I spoke about it, the want to work with Pat again was a big one. Having known Pat and knowing what he has done over the years and what we did together, with Conor and everyone else, it was an easy fit for me.
“I thought it would be a good way to go out and start my professional coaching career with someone that I know and that I can trust. We already have a relationship so it wouldn’t be starting from scratch again. I think it ticked a lot of boxes. Bristol as a club and what they are trying to achieve ticked a lot of boxes and the area itself.”
Muldoon has friends living over in Bristol so he hopes that will help his family settle into the area when they make the move across the Irish Sea this summer. Ultimately, this new chapter in his life is something which he is incredibly excited about but leaving Galway, a place so close to his heart, will be tough.
“Yeah it is [exciting]. I’m really looking forward to it! Not looking forward to leaving Galway just yet but I’m excited for it all to kick in and I’m looking forward to a few down weeks before that happens.”
The start of a new journey begins for Muldoon in a few weeks time and it’s difficult not to envisage him being a success in his new role.