Family ties keeping midfielder Mullins content in Donegal
Looking slightly surprised by the fuss, Donegal's latest recruit Nathan Mullins was greeted by a number of family members, some wearing the colours of his St Vincent's club in Dublin, as he was presented with the man-of-the-match award after Saturday night's Dr McKenna Cup semi-final win over Armagh.
Crowned as the Dublin Club Player of the Year in 2017, he qualifies for Donegal through his time spent as a child in Carndonagh, where his father Brian, legendary Dublin midfielder and four-time All-Ireland winner, taught for a decade. In that time, Mullins Snr managed Derry to their last Ulster title in 1998.
Mullins had been part of the Dublin U-21 panel that beat Donegal in the 2010 All-Ireland final but linked up with Donegal the year after in the same grade.
After putting a few injury-hit years behind him, Donegal manager Declan Bonner is delighted to have his commitment for the year ahead.
"Once I got the job, looking at options around the middle third, once big Neil Gallagher has gone, Rory Kavanagh and these guys, we hadn't a huge amount of options, a lot of young lads coming in there," he said.
"Nathan Mullins, he fitted a lot of what we were looking for, he is 27 now, at a mature age, he is playing at a high level in Dublin and I said from our point of view it was a no-brainer.
"I made that call the first day I sat down with him. I knew this guy was really serious about his football and brought a really professional attitude and he has been a breath of fresh air."
He also notes that after a number of seasons in the ultra-competitive Dublin scene, Mullins is arriving in almost as a fully-formed inter-county midfielder, with his two points on Saturday underlining his obvious ability.
"I would feel that if I hadn't picked him up during the end of the summer that he possibly could have been heading for Dublin, he has strong links with Donegal, he played his club football growing up in Donegal," stated Bonner.
"He had a real burning desire to play for Donegal and as I say, he is a great addition. Let's hope he goes from strength to strength."
Mullins is delighted with the opportunity and baulks at the suggestion that the commute - at more than three hours - is difficult.
"If travelling is the worst problem I have, I am going to have a good year. I don't mind it at all, I am well used to coming up and down the road over the years," he said, with the context being that he still has a brother living in Donegal.
He hints at the lines of communication being open with Donegal over the past few years when asked if Bonner's call-up was unexpected.
"I wouldn't say it was out of the blue. But I knew if I got a couple of games together, was playing good, consecutive football over the last year or two I knew the challenge would lie ahead. Thankfully I did and here I am now," Mullins said.
He went on to speak about the emotional connection to Donegal, stating, "Yeah, well that's where I started playing football. My family, they are all here tonight. Carndonagh is where we lived.
"I would have always had a massive affiliation with them. That's where I grew up and my family are here tonight. I am absolutely over the moon. I am honoured. Every time I put on this jersey I am absolutely over the moon.
"It's just another challenge. Years ago my target was to be the No 9 for Vincent's and this is the next challenge and that is what I am trying to do."
Donegal face Kerry in their league opener in Killarney this Sunday, a team that his father faced in many fabled games in the '70s.
For now, every second inside the Donegal bubble is precious as he forges stronger links with his team-mates.
"I am only in the squad two or three months now so every opportunity I get to be around the lads is a bonus.
"Whether it's Kerry, Dublin or whoever we are playing, I am looking forward to it."