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John Muldoon looks to all-Irish final as Connacht hold nerve to beat champions in Galway

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 23/05/2016

Edinburgh awaits: John Muldoon will lead Connacht in Saturday’s final
Edinburgh awaits: John Muldoon will lead Connacht in Saturday’s final

Before he left for the Sportsground on Saturday, John Muldoon found himself on YouTube watching footage of the celebrations after Galway's All-Ireland hurling victory in 1980 and the late Joe McDonagh's rendition of 'The West's Awake'.

He didn't get to make a speech a la Joe Connolly, but the Connacht captain did get swept up in scenes reminiscent of a mini-All-Ireland in the aftermath of this Guinness Pro12 semi-final victory (16-11) over Glasgow at the Sportsground as the fans lingered on the pitch to sing 'The Fields of Athenry' long after the full-time whistle.

As the players sat in the dressing-room before kick-off, two singers led the packed stadium in a rendition of 'The West's Awake' and the players responded with a performance that saw them deservedly book a date with Leinster in Edinburgh next Saturday.

"It's poignant at the time when Joe McDonagh (former GAA president) passed away," Muldoon said. "I was watching YouTube clips this morning of Joe Connolly and Joe McDonagh singing and the speech. Condolences to the family.

"You're in an area that people follow all sports. It's not just rugby fans that are out there. A lot of those people are soccer, hurling and football fans. We're all pulling out of a small pool. It's obviously sad for Joe and his family. 63 years of age. It's a poignant day and 'The West's Awake' is thrown out in a rugby stadium at that time. I met him a couple of times, a very nice man. Secretly he was a rugby fan as well. He mightn't have said it too loud but he enjoyed watching a few rugby matches as well."

Muldoon has experienced an All-Ireland win as part of the Galway minor squad in 2000 and, while he got the parallels on Saturday, he was quick to remind anyone listening that the job is not done yet.

"We are in a final, which is superb, but we have got to win the thing now," he said. "The way the crowd got behind us, the fact is that the momentum always goes with the home team (in the play-offs) so it's important to have the crowd behind us.

In beating the champions twice in three weeks, they have earned their place in the competition's showpiece event in Scotland's capital on Saturday where they will face Leinster.

After the game, Pat Lam confessed that Bundee Aki had twisted his knee in training on Tuesday and was on crutches for part of the week.

Despite being a major doubt right up until kick-off, the Samoan was outstanding with ball in hand, but it was his deft kick that blew the game wide open.

With half-time approaching and the score at 3-3, the centre put a deft chip into the path of Niyi Adeolokun who gathered, stepped inside Stuart Hogg and slipped through Duncan Weir's tackle to score.

Leone Nakarawa's try did narrow the gap, but AJ MacGinty's boot kept the western province out in front.

Adeolokun thought he had sealed it with a great try in the corner, but referee Marius Mitrea called it back for an accidental offside.

The full-time whistle was greeted with a roar that almost lifted the roof off the Clan Terrace and scenes of joy on the Sportsground pitch.

The fans luxuriated in the moment, the players made their way to the dressing-room.

For all that this was a historic moment, there's a trophy to be won next week.

Belfast Telegraph

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