John Muldoon: Eric Elwood key to Connacht rise

If Connacht manage to finish what they have started this season, by defeating Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground in Galway in eight days’ time, and then beat either Leinster or Ulster in the Pro12 final at Murrayfield a week later, there will be few who could begrudge John Muldoon his moment of glory
John Muldoon: Eric Elwood key to Connacht rise

And if the long-serving skipper does get a chance to lift silverware for the first time in his 13-year professional career, he hopes another Connacht stalwart will also be able to enjoy the moment from a distance.

Eric Elwood was a talismanic figure for Connacht at stand-off during the first 10 years of professionalism, and then dedicated another eight years to the province in a coaching capacity (the last three of those years as head coach), before deciding to step down at the end of 2012-13 season.

While he is still employed by the province as domestic rugby manager, Elwood has no formal contact with the team. But Muldoon hopes his old friend and mentor can take a certain amount of pride in the role he played in laying the foundations for the success the Westerners enjoyed this season.

“There is no doubt Eric was a good enough coach but emotionally it was just taking too much out of him so I think he would be one of the first people who should be standing up there holding that trophy — it would be nice for someone like him,” said Muldoon.

“I was fortunate enough to play with Eric and I was fortunate enough to be coached by him, and he always put everything into it. Ultimately it was his downfall.

“We were probably not where he wanted us to be in terms of being a group and it became too much on him and his family, so he had to do the sensible thing which was to step down. “

While the loss of Elwood may have been a bitter pill for Muldoon and his teammates to swallow at the time, there is no doubt the fresh approach brought by Pat Lam as head coach has allowed the province to move on to a whole new level.

“Eric built the foundations for Pat to come in, and Pat was quite fortunate he took over quite a young squad when he tried to change the style of play. We were looking at him thinking: Jeez, does he realise the weather we get here and the conditions we play in,” recalled Muldoon.

“But he had a plan and it was about up-skilling ourselves to get there, and also our mentality of how we get there, so that we backed ourselves unconditionally no matter what people were shouting at us.”

Muldoon added Connacht’s success should not be regarded as a complete shock. They hinted at what they might be capable of last season but couldn’t sustain their form going into the business end of the season.

“A lot of people forget that up until Christmas time last year we were in the top four and we only dropped out of the top six in the last three weeks of the season, because when the pressure came on last season we disappeared into ourselves a bit and stopped doing what we were doing,” he pointed out. The difference is this year we’ve believed in what we are doing, and Pat instils that belief.”

Meanwhile, the departing Nick Williams scooped the main award at Ulster Rugby’s annual awards dinner last night. Internationals Stuart McCloskey and Paddy Jackson were also among the winners.

Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year:

Nick Williams; URSC Player of the Year: Paddy Jackson; Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year: Franco van der Merwe; BT Young Player of the Year: Kyle McCall; Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year; Stuart McCloskey; Ulster Carpets Youth Player of the Year: John McCusker (Rainey); Danske Bank Schools’ Player of the Year; Jonathan Stewart (Wallace High School); SONI Community Rugby Champion Award: Willie Gribben (Portadown RFC); Dorrington B Faulkner Award (sponsored by Perennials RFC): John Merritt (Inishowen RFC); Ken Goodall Club Player of the Year: Rodger McBurney (Ballymena RFC); The Errigle Inn Women’s Player of the Year; Kathryn Dane (Enniskillen RFC); Autotrader Referee of the Year; Daniel Carson; Kukri Sports Club of the Year; Bangor; RFC Hughes Insurance Academy Player of the Year: Adam McBurney

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