Wednesday 13 December 2017

'You don't need to be a good footballer to play county now' - Mulligan

Former All-Star Owen Mulligan. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Sharppix
Former All-Star Owen Mulligan. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Sharppix

Michael Verney

When Owen Mulligan accepted an invitation from London football boss Ciarán Deely to meet for a coffee, the last thing on his mind was an inter-county return at 35.

The three-time Tyrone All-Ireland winner had left Cookstown a few months earlier to pursue work in the English capital but eyebrows raised when 'Mugsy' was spotted playing hurling for Fulham Irish.

With inter-county eligibility for the Exiles secured, it sparked debate about a potential debut and that came last weekend in a challenge game against Waterford, but it wasn't part of Mulligan's plan.

The 35-year-old "was asked to help out with the lads in training and stuff" while aiding their attacking play with a personal ambition to delve further into management in the coming years.

With injuries mounting, Mulligan "helped them out" against the Déise, taking his place in attack but despite feeling fit and in the best shape of his career "eating good food, no beer, no bread, no Guinness, no spuds", it was a rude awakening for the 2005 All-Star.

"I lasted 40-50 minutes. It was tough and I hadn't played championship football in five or six years and playing championship football was a big ask. But I felt well at training when it comes to runs but matches are totally different."

"You always think there is a bit of fight in there but I didn't have the best of games. Got on plenty of ball but the old shooting boots weren't with me and the fella got the better of me. I think I have to hold my hands up there."

He doesn't expect to feature against Leitrim in next weekend's Connacht SFC quarter-final in the redeveloped Ruislip but is enjoying his role and concedes that Father Time waits for no man with the inter-county game now built for athletes as opposed to footballers.

"It is all physique and they are athletes now, you don't necessarily need to be a good footballer to get on a county team. If you are fit, can run, be an athlete in good physical condition and can play the game-plan you have every chance.

"Maybe years ago I would have laughed at the London set-up, 'Ah it is only London', but I have big admiration for the lads now. Some of the lads are travelling two hours on the Tube just to play," he said.

"If I can help them out a wee bit with my experience, so be it. I was glad to be asked you don't often get those opportunities to come in and be a help, I wasn't really on for playing but I joined in the training sessions and it went well."

With more home-grown talent emerging in London, including promising captain Liam Gavaghan, Mulligan sees no reason why tangible progress can't be made in the next decade, including promotion from Division 4. "I am not going to say they are going to win X, Y and Z Cups but promotion is definitely there," he said.

"In 2003, we laughed as Tyrone fellas that Dublin were going to dominating for the next 10 or 15 years, as Tyrone men we were like, 'We are Tyrone men we are going to dominate that there'.

"Money and involvement in youth and pushing and pushing the game has worked for Dublin so why can it not for London because they have a lot of money in London so you have to ask yourselves if you are pushed and there is enough investment, you are bound to do something."

Mulligan, Paddy Power's new GAA ambassador for 2017 and a former team-mate of Cathal McCarron, knows all about the perils of gambling in modern-day GAA dressing-rooms and gives an interesting insight into Mickey Harte's quest to curb its influence.

Card schools at the back of the bus were a big thing in his heyday but Harte pulled the plug, believing "your head couldn't be right if you're losing 60 or 70 quid" in a game of Maverick.

"We're talking about dangerous stuff here, you see it in the Premier League, people taking their own lives, it's dangerous but if you can control it and gamble responsibly that seems to be the way. Hopefully people can take that on board."

Irish Independent

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