Get to know those helping to take Connacht to new heights

TOM McCARTNEY swapped New Zealand for Ireland last year when he joined Connacht, but before he left Auckland his team-mates put together a tribute video.

The hooker’s nickname is ‘Freak’ for his ability in the gym – “Coming through the age grades, I looked like a little white boy but a lot of the time I was stronger than the big guys,” he says – so it’s fitting that the video features the song Super Freak. Words have been changed to describe McCartney’s rugby prowess and while the 29-year-old stars in a few ‘dance’ routines in the video, he insists the idea came from his team-mates at Auckland.

“I didn’t do any song writing!” he insists. “After I scored a try, one of the guys in the team wrote the whole song. As my nickname is Freak, he called me Super Freak. I was worried because I knew I might come across as a bit of a d**k, but I don’t take myself too seriously.”

Leading figure
It was clear on his arrival at Connacht that his new colleagues had watched the video, but who would McCartney like to produce a film of? “John Muldoon deserves a video. Everyone calls him ‘Mole’, like ’Mole-doon’. So maybe we need to get him a new nickname first!”

John Muldoon

Long server: John Muldoon has spent his entire pro career at Connacht. Photo: Inpho

Muldoon has been at Connacht for 14 years, joining the academy with his brother when he came to study in Galway. His brother left to join the police, but Muldoon has never looked back. “My brother and I were both brought into the academy but he hated it,” explains Muldoon. “He didn’t like the lifestyle, saying he played rugby for enjoyment and didn’t enjoy it as a professional. I loved it – getting paid to train and play.”

Youth project
Muldoon, 32, is certainly in the senior player category at Connacht but it’s the province’s youth policy that seems to be reaping rewards. As well as reaching the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup, Connacht are sitting in sixth position in the Guinness Pro12 table and have already won more league games than ever before.

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw is the province’s star, but Muldoon points to the other young faces in the squad too. “The big thing for us is we’re a young team – and I put myself in there!” he jokes. “The young lads coming through get better and better.

“We’ve played a couple of times with a back-line which has an average age of 22 or 23. There’s Kieran Marmion at 23, Robbie Henshaw’s 21, Darragh Leader’s 21. All three of them have been training with Ireland this year. So we’re a young, young team but there is experience in there with the likes of Mils Muliaina. He’s got huge knowledge of the game.”

Pat Lam

Pulling together: Connacht gather to listen to a team talk from Pat Lam. Photo: Inpho

Man at the top
Since taking over the reins at Connacht in 2013, former Samoa No 8 Pat Lam has focused on three areas – the game, culture and leadership – and his approach is paying off. After finishing tenth in the Pro12 last year, he has been pleased with his team’s form this season.

“We’ve been more consistent,” says Lam. “The bottom line is these guys work hard. If we put a highlights package together we’d see the amount of teamwork that’s done as a team. The lowlights would show when we’re not playing as a team. We’re not good enough as individuals to play as individuals, so it’s important we work together.”

Read more from these Connacht interviews in the April 2015 issue of Rugby World – on sale 10 March. Click here for the latest subscription offers and find out how to download the digital edition here.