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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Tuesday, June 5th 2018

‘It’s strange not pulling on the boots, but I’m relishing next chapter’ - Muldoon

It’s been 17 years since John Muldoon was the new kid on the block, but after first-day introductions and the challenge of learning new names, the former Connacht stalwart is relishing his next chapter as Bristol Bears’ defence coach.

It’s been a quick turnaround for the 35-year-old, who only called time on a stellar playing career less than five weeks ago. And after settling in at only the second club of his professional career, Muldoon is focused on making the smooth transition to the sidelines.

“17 years, it’s a long, long time and it was strange to be moving on," he says. "It’s an exciting time for me individually, but an exciting time for the club and I’m looking forward to gaining more experience and leaving my comfort zone, putting myself out there and being in a position where I don’t know anyone and I’m starting from scratch again. I’m hugely excited about getting stuck in with Bristol Bears, the Premiership, and everything that goes with it.

“I’ve been getting to know everyone, putting names to faces and introducing myself to everybody. It’s just been about getting into the realm of coaching and trying to transition from that playing environment.

“It’s a bit different not pulling on the boots, but it’s been an enjoyable week getting to know everyone – coaches, staff and players.

“I spoke to Pat early on and I said I was keen to come in from the start of pre-season. I’ve been through enough pre-seasons and seen a lot of coaches in my time, and I think it’s important to get here early and build relationships. You can’t underestimate how important it is to be here from day one and just to get to know everyone. There are little, subtle things you can pick up early doors that can be valuable as the season moves on.”

One person who needed no introduction was head coach, Pat Lam, who Muldoon played under for four years in Galway, captaining the historic PRO12 winning side of the 2015/16 season.

Lam identified Muldoon’s coaching pedigree during his title-winning spell in charge at the Galway Sportsground - citing comparisons to the opportunities afforded to him by long-time mentor, Ian McGeechan. And once the three-cap Ireland international had announced the conclusion of his playing career, Lam wasted little time in snapping him up.

"It’s an exciting time for me individually, but an exciting time for the club. I’m hugely excited about getting stuck in with Bristol Bears, the Premiership, and everything that goes with it."

John Muldoon, defence coach

“John has the character traits and qualities that match everything we are looking for,” said Lam, when Muldoon’s arrival was announced in April.

“When I was still playing, my mentor – Ian McGeechan – gave me my first coaching opportunity in the professional game and I want John to have the same opportunity to begin his coaching career.

“John has played more games than anyone else in the PRO14 and he has an intelligent rugby brain. When we coached together in the Galway community and worked closely together on gameplan and leadership strategy whilst at Connacht, I could see he had the makings of an excellent coach.”

And the respect is mutual, with Muldoon determined to learn from Lam’s forensic attention to detail.

“I obviously worked with Pat at Connacht and got on well with him as a person and a coach. He said to me a few years ago that he saw a lot of my characteristics in himself – a player transitioning from rugby and looking at what was next.

“So, to be able to come over and learn, and see the detail and experience that he has as a coach – and the organisation he brings to it – that’s something I was looking forward to getting back involved with.”

Pat Lam and John Muldoon celebrate winning the PRO12 title in 2016.

From the minute Muldoon had begun to turn one eye to his future and life after playing, a career in professional coaching was always on the horizon. A brief dip in the world of strength and conditioning failed to tick the boxes he was looking for, and although accepting the inevitable ‘steep learning curve’ his new role will force upon him, Muldoon feels primed and ready to go in the West Country.

“From a while go, coaching was the plan after I finished playing,” he says. “I’ve done some coaching at club level in Ireland and I suppose, seven or eight years ago, I’d gone through college and done my degree, and I could never see myself going back there.

“I did an S&C course to see what that was like and I enjoyed the coaching aspect of things, but not so much the technical and theory aspect of it. I think I was on the course for about a year and someone there said to me: ‘you’re a coach, not an S&C coach’, so I finished out the remainder of that and turned my attention to hands-on rugby coaching.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve, but it’s something that I’m looking forward to and something that I’ve been getting ready for, for a few years.”

Muldoon describes his new role as ‘the nuts and bolts’ of defence, putting a weight of emphasis on communication and leadership – something the 320-cap former Connacht captain knows a thing or two about.

“I was saying to some of the players that they’re going to be sick of me if they don’t start talking more on the pitch,” he says. “It’s quite a young squad here and while there are some big names, by and large, the squad is quite young, so hopefully we can help a bit with the leadership side of things.”

Incredibly, after 17 years and 320 games, it’s the first time in his career that John Muldoon hasn’t been involved with rugby in Connacht.

Both at Bristol Bears and in the realm of coaching, he is the new kid on the block, but with vast experience, and a reputation and persona that inspired an emotional farewell video from the west coast of Ireland, Bristol know, they’ve got a good’un.


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