Josh van der Flier fondly recalls John Muldoon's words to him, after one crunching tackle
"That was a funny moment that sticks out to me."
John Muldoon loved nothing better than getting one over Leinster. They were the team he always wanted to beat, more than others. He would use every trick in the book - even negotiating with Josh van der Flier from point-blank, at the bottom of a ruck.
The Portumna native played 16 seasons with Connacht and led them to a PRO12 title in 2016, when they beat Leinster in a free-flowing final at Murrayfield. If ever there was a player that epitomised his province, it was the proud and rugged Muldoon. He once told us:
"We have our history, it's a lot like where we're from and the landscape and the environment we're in, it's a tough place. But inside that tough place there's a beauty to it - maybe I'm getting sentimental in my old age. But there's something special about it...
"I've been in a dressing room before when people said - I was quite young at the time -'We're on TV this weekend. It's a great opportunity for us'.
"What do they mean by that? They mean it's a great opportunity for teams to look at us, so we'd be picked up by another club. I never thought about it that way. I always thought every day was a great opportunity for me to go out and play for Connacht."
The first time Josh van der Flier came up against Muldoon, it was in that memorable 2015/16 season, when the men from the West claimed league glory for the first time. A March fixture at The Sportsground, that season, saw Connacht claim a win that would be a portent for that final at Murrayfield.
Two months previous, van der Flier faced off against Connacht in his second season of professional rugby, and his 16th outing with the senior Leinster side. At the United Rugby Championship season launch, the Wicklow native fondly recalled Muldoon's words to him, after one crunching tackle.
Josh van der Flier on John Muldoon offer
Heading into the 2022/23 season as reigning Irish Players' and European Player of the Year, Josh van der Flier made his Leinster debut in October 2014. He featured six times in his debut season quickly established himself (20 appearances and two Ireland caps) the following season.
His first ever encounter with Connacht was at The RDS on New Years' Day, 2016, as he started in a Leinster back row with Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy.
Played out in wretched, rainy conditions, Leinster led through a 14th minute Johnny Sexton penalty and the score remained 3-0 until the 60th minute. Leinster set up camp in the Connacht 22 after a Dave Kearney line break and, after multiple pick and goes, van der Flier crashed over for the game's only try.
Sexton converted and Leinster had a two-score cushion heading into the final quarter. During that spell, van der Flier recalls one collision with John Muldoon that left both back-rows on the deck, as play raged on around them.
"I was playing against Connacht and John Muldoon, one of the great players of Connacht rugby," Josh van der Flier recalls.
"It was my first time playing against them, and he tackled me. The two of us were at the bottom of a ruck, completely squashed, face to face.
"It was towards the end of the game, and it was a really tough game. He said to me, 'Josh, if you stay here and I stay here, they won't give out to the either of us for not working hard'. That was a funny moment that sticks out to me."
Van der Flier may have heeded those words and taken a few beats, before returning to his feet to rejoin the Leinster ranks. He ended up playing the full 80 as Leinster closed out the game, aided by a late Ian Madigan penalty, to win 13-0.
Muldoon played the full 80, too. In total, he started 25 of his 27 Connacht outings, that season, and logged just under 2,000 minutes as the men from the West won their first ever league title.
*Josh van der Flier and Leinster kick off their United Rugby Championship campaign with a 1pm kick-off against Zebre on Saturday, September 17.
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