Sunday 20 October 2019

'It still hasn't sunk in yet' - Mullinalaghta heroes given huge welcome at emotional homecoming

The St. Columba’s GAA Football team arrive at St. Columba’s National School, led by Conán Brady and Shane Mulligan Capt. Co.Longford yesterday.
]PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
The St. Columba’s GAA Football team arrive at St. Columba’s National School, led by Conán Brady and Shane Mulligan Capt. Co.Longford yesterday. ]PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Shane Mulligan Capt. St. Columba’s GAA Football Team signs an autograph for Maria McHale at St. Columba’s National School, Mullinalaghta, Co Longford yesterday. ]PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Molly Duffy and Rose Hanlon pictured with their St. Columba’s Football posters at St. Columba’s National School, Mullinalaghta, Co. Longford yesterday. PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Look They are coming…….Children of St. Columba’s National School, Mullinalaghta wait for Leinster club champions to arrive at Co.Longford. PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
John Keegan signs autographs for Shauna McGivney and Maria McHale at St. Columba’s National School, led by Conán Brady and Shane Mulligan Capt. Co Longford. PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Mums and daughters from left; Karen Mulligan and Pippa (11mths), Ann Earley and Lauren (4mths) and Teresa Sullivan and Summer (4 and a half mths) at St. Columba’s National School, Mullinalaghta, Co. Longford yesterday. PIC COLIN O’RIORDAN
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

It’s not every day that a tiny village in rural Ireland shoots to fame within an instant.

With not even a local shop or post office to call its own, Mullinalaghta in Longford has very few amenities to offer its community of 447 residents.

But with the colossal reception its young heroes received as they returned victorious from their David V Goliath clash against the Dubs, it is clear that this tiny village is doing perfectly fine.

In the immediate aftermath of their 1-8 to 1-6 victory over Kilmacud Crokes in yesterday's Leinster club football final, the party began and continued well into the next day.

With many a sore head, the team still managed to get up early to visit the local primary school, St Columbas.

Forming a guard of honour, about 100 children welcomed their new role models with cheers and cries of excitement.

Principal Frances Skelly told the Independent.ie that once she was informed that the team were on the way, classes were brought to an immediate halt.

"The children spent the entire morning making posters for the lads and could barely contain themselves with the excitement.

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"The hype around the town now is extraordinary and I’m delighted that the children have some fantastic role models to look up to – it’s a fairy-tale come true."

Captain of St Columba's Shane Mulligan had to be separated from signing autographs so he could reflect on the historic game.

"It still hasn’t sunk in yet," he said.

"All this attention and praise we’ve been getting has been so fantastic and it just goes to show that this is by far the best village in Ireland.

"But our success didn’t come easy. We’ve been training and working so hard for this day and gave the Dubs a performance they’ll certainly never forget."

Working hard is one thing, but a club of 155 members beating a club of 4,800 with vastly superior resources is beyond incredible.

Conan Brady, the team’s corner back, has been commuting from the UK to play matches for Mullinalaghta for eight years.

Speaking with a very hoarse voice from the night before, Brady said Sunday’s result made his arduous commutes all worthwhile.

"Playing along my team in matches is always an amazing experience – I would never miss it," he said.

"I manage to get my training in with a local club in Leeds and then fly home again when we have a match. It’s no bother for me because of how passionate I am about the game and the town."

Dan McElligott, who has five sons on the Mullinalaghta panel, believes that the team should lap up every moment of their new found fame.

"It was electric and it has been an unbelievable journey for them,” he said.

"I’m so proud of my lads, the school  and this community.  They deserve every bit of the attention they’re getting, but they will never let it go to their heads.

"The team will just continue as they are and take each challenge put in their way head on."

But what’s the secret to this GAA’s club's success? How did a group of young men defy sporting and economic prejudices and come out on top?

There are many theories, but one of the more interesting ones stems from the mid-90s when there was a spike of baby boys born in Mullinalaghta.

According to the father of centre-forward James McGivney, the village had success in their sights ever since then.

"Ever since these lads learned to walk they were put onto the pitch and have always proved they were a force to be reckoned with," said Peter McGivney.

"We could see that there were a good few talented lads at St Columbas NS and knew for years that we’d soon have a very strong panel down the line."

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