Connacht talisman Muldoon retires as new star rises in the west

Connacht 47 Leinster 10: On a day when Connacht bade farewell to their talisman from Portumna, along comes another farmer’s son from a few miles away on the other side of the River Shannon to lay down a marker and offer hope for the future with hooker Shane Delahunt producing a remarkable display on a day of celebration in Galway.

Delahunt may have grown up in a different county and province to John Muldoon but their family farm at Riverstown outside Birr is only a few miles from Portumna.

Delahunt has only made 14 starts for Connacht — with another 29 off the bench — but he produced the sort of swash-buckling display on Saturday which suggests he is poised for a big breakthrough which could be taken to a new level if Joe Schmidt is willing to take a punt on the tyro.

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell was in attendance at the Sportsground on Saturday when Delahunt displayed an array of skills from ripping balls, outrageous offloads to doing the basic lineout and scrum duties with aplomb. It set the tone for a memorable day in the west and offered hope to beleaguered Connacht fans worried about the future after two dismal seasons since their historic PRO12 success.

“I love Del Boy,” said Connacht coach Kieran Keane, when asked to comment on Delahunt’s display. “I loved his little flick pass, he practices it all the time. He’s done it twice — which he won’t be shy about telling you.

“He’s a delightful bloody human being, he had a great game. He got the position against two really good players who have had their moments throughout the season. I was chuffed for him. He’s a cheeky bugger as well.”

It’s early days but Connacht might have discovered another gem — Delahunt was let go by Leinster after being in their sub-academy after converting from prop to hooker — but Saturday was all about giving Muldoon a suitable farewell. They didn’t disappoint.

Muldoon played all 80 minutes of his 327th and final game of rugby — ending it on a high by converting their seventh penalty and then kicking another penalty to touch in the final play of a wonderful afternoon in front of 8,125 fans.

Niyi Adeolokun and Kieran Marmion scored a brace of tries each, with Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki and Caolin Blade also scoring. Muldoon’s conversion was the only score from a forward on the day.

Connacht led 21-3 at the break with the only offering from Leinster coming from Barry Daly’s 12th try of the campaign after 54 minutes when he pounced on an error, but Connacht’s dominance was never threatened.

And on a day when they bade farewell to another long-serving player Andrew Browne and several others who will depart in the summer, out-half Jack Carty said they wanted to mark the occasion with a suitable performance.

“We wanted to send Mul and Browney and all the rest of the lads off,” said Carty.

“Mul got quite emotional before the match in the changing room and I think that showed in our first 20 minutes; the way we held onto the ball for multiple, multiple phases.” And Keane said that Muldoon was responsible for setting the tone for a wild day of celebration in the west.

“He’s an engaging man. But he’s a humble man. That humility is a strength within the team and the group,” said Keane.

Scorers for Connacht:

Tries: Adeolokun 2, O’Halloran, Marmion 2, Aki, Blade; Cons: Carty 4, Ronaldson, Muldoon.

Scorers for Leinster:

Try: B Daly; Con: Carbery; Pen: Carbery.

CONNACHT:

T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; G Thornbury, Q Roux; E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon.

Replacements:

U Dillane for Roux (55), E Masterson for McKeon (55), C Carey for Bealham (62), C Blade for Marmion (63), C Ronaldson for Carty (63), P McCabe for Buckley (67), T McCartney for Delahunt (67), D Leader for O’Halloran (72).

LEINSTER:

J Carbery; B Daly, T Daly, N Reid, J Lowe; R Byrne, N McCarthy; J McGrath, J Tracy, A Porter; R Molony, M Kearney; M Deegan, P Timmins, J Conan.

Replacements:

D Toner for Kearney (37), Kearney for Toner (h-t), C Healy for McGrath (51), S Cronin for Tracy (51), M Bent for Porter (51), J Gibson-Park for McCarthy (51), J Larmour for T Daly (55), C Doris for Deegan (62), A Byrne for R Byrne (70).

Referee:

Andrew Brace (Ireland).

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