Mullally: Leinster final can power Rangers forward
TOM Mullally refutes the theory that any aspirations he had of standing on the sideline at tomorrow's Leinster SHC club final lay primarily with Kilkenny side Clara.
Earlier this season their manager Mick Purcell persuaded him to do a bit of coaching with his team.
The fact that they had won the 2013 All-Ireland intermediate title and taken the Kilkenny senior crown at their next opportunity, made them serious contenders until they were knocked out by tomorrow's repeat finalists Oulart-The Ballagh.
But it was with Carlow club Mount Leinster Rangers (MLR) that Mullally's first loyalty always lay, coincidentally thanks to Purcell.
Mullally is the eldest brother of Kilkenny seniors Richie and Paddy and he had a love for developing hurlers from a young age, coaching the club U-21s in his native Glenmore when he himself was barely out of that grade.
When Purcell took over as Mount Leinster boss midway through 2006 Mullally went with him and then took over as manager a few years later. Since their giant-killing act over Ballyboden St Enda's, the 'Rangers' story has taken off.
They are one of the Carlow clubs who also play across the border in the Kilkenny all-county junior league to challenge themselves.
That paid off when they won the All-Ireland intermediate title in 2012 and gave eventual champions Kilcormac-Killoughey a right fright later that year in the Leinster senior competition.
So, to hurling aficionados, MLR's big breakthrough, backed by eight of Carlow seniors, was not a bolt from the blue.
But what were Mullally's first impressions when he first met them in 2006?
"I hadn't a clue what to expect. I said I'd just go up to help out Mick. I was honoured to be asked," he says.
"I could immediately see they were genuinely ambitious. Like serious players everywhere they were making the same sacrifices, giving up holidays... training three and four nights a week and people were turning up early to do extra work on their frees and sidelines."
But, coming from Kilkenny, did he not notice a skill differential?
"Not really. A lot of them are county players and Carlow have made real progress. Their only problem is that there are only six or seven senior clubs," he explains.
His time in charge hasn't been completely flawless. MLR lost county finals to Naomh Brid (2008) and St Mullins (2010) and when they played Lisdowney in the quarter-final of the Kilkenny league this summer "we got a lesson."
That defeat, losing to Kilcormac-Killoughey by five points last year and being pushed hard by Castletown-Geoghegan this autumn, stopped any complacency and they produced the game of their lives against Ballyboden.
Tomorrow's task is made harder by Oulart losing the last three Leinster finals, but having gone to school in Good Counsel, managed Rathnure and been part of Colm Bonner's back-room team in Wexford for two years, Mullally knows all there is to know about the opposition.
"Oulart have all the experience, but we're no mugs either and we'll be judged now on our performance," he says.
"If it ends tomorrow, that'll be it for this year but, as a club and a team, whatever happens we have to keep pushing on and use this to keep driving us forward."