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Hero’s Welcome For Muldoon As He Returns To Where It All Started

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Hero’s Welcome For Muldoon As He Returns To Where It All Started thumbnailThe Sword of Connacht. Portumna Community School deputy principal, Mr James Coughlan makes a presentation of a specially commissioned sword, to past pupil and Connacht rugby captain, John Muldoon.

CONNACHT rugby captain John Muldoon was given a hero's welcome as he returned to Portumna Community School, where he first picked up a rugby ball 21 years ago when he visited his alma mater on Thursday last.

Accompanied by the entire Connacht squad and management, they were given a prolonged standing ovation as they took the stage in front of a packed school gym which included members of John's family, past staff, members of the school board and invited guests. Also present were senior students from Portumna NS and Gurtanumera NS, the latter, John's former primary school.

Welcoming the 50 strong group on stage, school principal, Mr Derry Long, pointed to the deep connections between Portumna CS and Connacht Rugby, including Daithi Frawley who introduced rugby to the school and who was one of those who fought to save the province in the crisis of 2002-2003 becoming President in 2003, and James Coughlan, who coached John from the start of his rugby training at age 14.

Mr Long thanked Pat Lam, Head Coach, for his enormous contribution to bringing such great success to Connacht.

Speaking at the event Deputy Anne Rabbitte TD congratulated John and the squad and praised his involvement with the sport at underage level in the town, sentiments echoed by Mark Scannell, President of Portumna Town RFC who also presented John with honorary life membership.

Pat Lam in his presentation left a profound impact on all those present, in particular his memorable delivery on 'how to say no' when faced with negative peer pressure. The task of leading the formal tribute to John was appropriately taken on by the school's deputy principal, Mr James Coughlan who coached John at the very start of his career. The following is the text of that tribute:

 

Tribute To John Muldoon

'It is a privilege and an honour to contribute to our illustrious past student John Muldoon whom we are proud of. I would like if we could all reflect on John's story. For five years John moved in the same circles as you; used the same classrooms, the same pitches and the same dressing rooms. Today, I would like to share his story with you. When John was with us as a student he helped inspire his peers, he helped to motivate his peers. Every story he connected with was as a result of taking action, every leader he admired and everything he has accomplished is as a result of taking action.

'Each student here this morning is in the process of writing your own story and each of you is a work in progress, you will write the future of your own lives, of your communities and maybe like John the future of your province and your country. John proved that the world is all gates, all opportunities.

'I had the privilege of coaching John at both Junior and Senior level and sharing that journey with him; his presence back in his Alma Mater with the Connacht squad and the Pro 12 Cup together with Pat Lam and his management team today completes that journey.

'John Muldoon as a student in the school had a number of attributes and from an early age he had those attributes in spades. John's first attribute was discipline and only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites and peer group pressures. John was an ordinary student doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well.

'Another attribute John had was passion. His passion for rugby manifested itself as optimism, an instant connection to the sport and an unsinkable determination. John also showed tremendous spirit, a work ethic that was unrelenting and displayed that from kick off to final whistle.

'On Wednesday March 9th 1997, I coached our Junior Cup team to win our first Connacht Schools' Junior Cup title when we finally reached the holy grail of sorts by defeating St Muireadach's; the same year we also won the Schools' Development League defeating Ballygar which was John's first and second win at schoolboy level. John was on his way to a great career. This I believe, is the beginning of John's pathway to success; he moved in a circle where he met other players and aspired to be like them.

'In 5th year John was a big man and when John asked players to go to training after school; they generally went to training without argument. John was a senior Inter Pro school boy in 98/99 and again in 99/2000. He played for the Irish under 19 side in the world cup in Chile. John also played on the Irish under 21 side.

'I remember being in Galway at a meeting in the Connacht Branch one evening shortly after John joined the ranks of the pros and there was John in the gathering gloom on a November day on his own powering through drills, a stop watch in his hand but carefully working on an aspect of his game.

'As a schoolboy John's ability to ruck, maul, tackle, clean out and carry the ball was way ahead of the average skills' set for a second level student. A number of years ago when the powers of Rugby in Dublin attempted to close down Connacht Rugby; we all sent letters of opposition challenging this ridiculous idea. On January 18th 2003, Gerry Thornley had an extensive article in The Irish Times titled, "Connacht won't go away you know." Gerry highlighted in the article the fact that, "John Muldoon had come on the previous Saturday for Connacht against Pontypridd and was now a fully-fledged player for Connacht and to think that a few years previously John was playing Senior Cup Rugby in our school."

'With their backs to the Atlantic, John and his team mates demonstrated that spirit, that tenacity, that passion, that warrior element under Pat Lam, not only to put Connacht Rugby back on the map but in a few short years climbed to the top of their profession.

'We are more familiar with watching the coronation of teams on open top buses on the streets of the bigger European cities like Munich and Madrid. Wasn't it a spectacle to see John the Captain in an open top bus and his team being heralded through the streets of Galway and celebrated by thousands as heroes with the Pro 12 Cup which put Connacht Rugby back on the pedestal of Europe in 2016.

'What John has done for Rugby in Connacht, espouses all the values that it takes to be successful. A buoy is anchored to the bottom of the sea and similarly John's leadership was always anchored to values. Every student here in the Gym today can learn from John's pathway to success. Here in the school, John made the decision to be a professional Rugby player; he knew what it would take, I am delighted for your success John; your story is one of one's personal best, you are a man who didn't wait for the boat to come in; you swam out to it, got on board and found your own pathway to the pinnacle of success. You remain a model for every student to aspire to heights you have achieved and you have inspired many young people during your career and you will be the source of inspiration into the future and remain a significant adult in the lives of many young rugby players and many other students.

I will finish with the concluding lines of "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

“I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference." So did John.I am delighted to present to you on behalf of the school past and present this memento, the sword of Connacht, of your career to date and your visit today.'

In reply John said that he was truly humbled by the occasion and took the opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to his career including his parents who were also in attendance. He urged the students present to follow their dream, be prepared to work hard in whatever area they choose to follow. He was also hugely appreciative of the role the school played in his career 'something I have never forgotten and am always hugely thankful for'.

Following the formal part of the event the squad then took part in an open training session on the school pitches. The entire event will be remembered by those present for years to come and the school is hugely appreciative of the effort by John, the squad and management in giving of their time so generously.

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