Saturday 27 May 2017

St Mullins against the odds in Cuala clash but history hints at upset

Dublin footballer Cian O’Callaghan hit an incredible 4-3 in their last outing against Laois champions Borris-Kilcotton. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Dublin footballer Cian O’Callaghan hit an incredible 4-3 in their last outing against Laois champions Borris-Kilcotton. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

If you believe in omens then the smart money might be on St Mullins this weekend as they take on Dublin champions Cuala in the Leinster Club SHC semi-final in Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday.

The Carlow champions are looking to follow in the footsteps of Mount Leinster Rangers who, back in 2013, smashed their glass ceiling and claimed provincial honours for the county for the first time.

It'd get even better. They'd go all the way to the All-Ireland final, before losing out to club hurling royalty in Galway side Portumna on St Patrick's Day. And the parallels between that successful campaign and the one St Mullins are in the midst of just now are uncanny.

Three years ago, Mount Leinster Rangers completed a three-in-a-row of Carlow titles and in the final they dismantled St Mullins to prove that they were the county's best team by a distance. And they'd go on to win an historic provincial title, beating the Westmeath, Dublin and Wexford champions along the way.

St Mullins are on the same path. This year, they showed they were a little ahead of their great rivals. When they met Mount Leinster Rangers in the final this year, they had nine points to spare and in the process they completed their own three-in-a-row.

Now they stand on the same road to Leinster glory that Mount Leinster Rangers faced. In their previous two seasons, they hadn't made any impact in Leinster. In 2014 and 2015, they went down to the Westmeath champions but this year, under the guidance of PJ Delaney, they turned over Raharney in Mullingar a couple of weeks ago.

Now they must face back-to-back Dublin champions Cuala for a spot in the decider. They are long-shot outsiders given Cuala's run to the final last year and the fine form of Dublin footballer Con O'Callaghan, who hit an incredible 4-3 in their last outing against Laois champions Borris-Kilcotton.

But then they are used to fighting against the odds in their part of the world. Nestled in a corner of South Carlow and hemmed in by the Blackstairs Mountains which form the border with Wexford and the Barrow which separates them from Kilkenny, St Mullins is a small, but vibrant, club. And given their neighbours there's little wonder their first and only love is hurling.

One estimate puts around 300 homes in the parish. The pool isn't deep but then almost all of those houses are involved in the club that has allowed them to build a significant indoor astroturf facility.

And perhaps more importantly there's a tradition of hurling. St Mullins are Carlow's most decorated club and former Wexford great Mick Morrissey hails from the parish originally. Work in New Ross saw him line out with the Slaneysiders, with whom he'd win three All-Ireland medals. Liam 'Red Willie' Walsh also hailed from St Mullins and he became the first Carlow man to play for Leinster in the Railway Cup when he lined out alongside the likes of Eddie Keher.

Given there are just six senior clubs in Carlow, they operate in the Kilkenny leagues in order to sample a wider array of competition but they'll face a significant step up in class when Cuala visit this weekend. They are as long as 5/1 to follow Mount Leinster Rangers and reach the provincial final.

But there's many around the club who'll remember the last time they welcomed the Dublin champions to Carlow. Back in 2002, they caused a shock to dump O'Tooles out of the competition.

If you believe in omens.

Irish Independent

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