Thursday 17 January 2019

Donegal's Mullins rises to steep learning curve

Nathan Mullins. Photo: Sportsfile
Nathan Mullins. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Of all the nights that Nathan Mullins didn't want to end early, a third round league match for Donegal against Dublin in Croke Park certainly had to top that list.

But after just 20 minutes his involvement against his county of residence, where he plays his club football and where his father built a reputation as one of the giants of Gaelic football, was over.

The St Vincent's man has had a difficult start to life as an inter-county footballer with Donegal, where he lived the first 11 years of his life, with a red card against Kerry in his opening league game, a subsequent suspension and then that early withdrawal against the one team he wouldn't have wanted it to happen against.

"It didn't go to plan. Obviously the management felt I wasn't up to the challenge against (Brian) Fenton and I got taken off earlier than I would have expected. It wasn't a great night. But this is just a challenge, I knew it was going to be tough."

He is adamant his substitution hasn't left him harbouring 'hard feelings' towards the management. "It was a tough one to take, to be taken off after 20 minutes in Croke Park against Dublin after everything going on, it wasn't a nice feeling. But there are no hard feelings or no issue. I know I wasn't playing great."

Mullins was on Jim Gavin's 2010 Dublin U-21 squad for a period but wasn't involved when they won the All-Ireland title, beating Donegal in the final.

A year later he had committed to Donegal and when Declan Bonner came calling on the back of an impressive Dublin championship campaign with St Vincent's, he couldn't resist. "There was always a bit of contact with Donegal but I would have felt, and obviously they felt at the time, that I wouldn't have been up to that level."

Having grown up in Carndonagh, where his father was principal of the local Community School, it was an offer he couldn't resist.

"Growing up in Donegal and playing with Carndonagh, I obviously always wanted to play with Donegal. There were big ties with Vincent's and DCU at the time, there was a lot of Donegal lads in DCU. Jim McGuinness just got in touch (in 2011) at the time and wanted to know if I was interested and I was. I jumped at the opportunity. It was something that I wanted and again that didn't work as well as I would have liked. I tore my hamstring and that's kind of where my injuries started."

He had a decent McKenna Cup campaign but suffered a setback with that Killarney red card just 20 minutes in which reduced Donegal to 14 players for the remaining 50 minutes of a game that they lost by a point.

"Obviously, I felt at fault then that we lost and was suspended then for the Galway game. Then I didn't have a game under my belt going into Croke Park but a massive learning curve, silly bit of red mist.

"I know there was a lot of stuff going on off the ball but I have to expect that. You just can't get away with stuff like that at inter-county level where you might do in a club game."

Irish Independent

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