Picture Perfect: ‘There was this really warm embrace which lasted about 10 to 15 seconds’

Picture Perfect: ‘There was this really warm embrace which lasted about 10 to 15 seconds’
Photo: INPHO/James Crombie

My favourite sports picture

I joined the INPHO picture agency in 2006 and about a year later I more or less fell into the role of being the full-time Connacht photographer for the company.

At the time a friend of mine, Keith Matthews, was playing for the province so I had a small link in with the team which helped to open a few doors.

We are now the official photographer for Connacht which means that we provide images for the match programmes, website, promotions and so on. It also means that we can have greater access to players on match days — and this is how this picture came about.

For much of that time there have been more sad days and bad days for Connacht.

They were the poor relation of the provinces when you consider the successes that Leinster, Munster and Ulster have had in the professional era.

And that is why this picture, taken in the minutes after Connacht won the PRO12 title in Murrayfield in 2016, is my selection.

The two central men in it — Eric Elwood and John Muldoon — are Connacht born and bred and are the epitome of the province.

They bleed Connacht Rugby.

John probably hadn’t won a trophy since his school days. He had collected all these individual awards and accolades but there was nothing to show in terms of a team award.

A lot of people felt that he could have progressed his career had he gone to another province but John was so loyal to Connacht, even if it cost him.

And alongside him was Eric, who had done everything possible to further the cause of Connacht rugby whether as a player or a coach.

If you could have picked two players to help illustrate what a title for Connacht rugby meant these two would be top of every list.

As the official photographer I had access to the dressing room after the final and I saw the moment as it was about to happen.

John had his head down and didn’t know who it was at first and when he realised it was Eric there was this really warm embrace which lasted about 10 to 15 seconds. As a photographer you have to detach yourself from everything going on around you.

You are trying to blend in as much as you can. And that is why I like this picture — they are not looking at me. It is such a genuine moment and it is one of those things that isn’t captured as much any more in professional sports.

Most of the great shots are the ones where you are not interfering or directing.

In a moment like this you are there as an observer, and are giving the public and the fans, an insight into what this meant to the players themselves. Jake Heenan talking on his phone to their right adds to the realness of it, that sense of capturing a special moment in time which was literally years in the making.

The fact that this is not posed or preordained makes it such a wonderful picture.

There is a fine line to a walk when you are an official photographer. I would regard a lot of players as friends but they know I am there to do a job in good times and bad times. I lost count of the amount of times I had to take pictures of dejected players — including John — trooping off the field after yet another loss. That can be the hardest bit of it but they never pulled me up on it. And perhaps that is why this picture means as much to me as well.

Interview: Colm O’Connor

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