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Ex-Newry City boss Darren Mullen bitten by the coaching bug in Gaelic football

Wednesday 5th June 2024

‘There’s more buy in among Gaelic footballers compared to soccer’

FORMER Newry City manager Darren Mullen doesn’t see himself returning to soccer coaching just yet after embracing the challenge of coaching his local GAA club Ballyholland and the Down minors.

Mullen stepped down as Newry City boss at the end of last season after 10 years at the helm. A keen Gaelic football enthusiast, he never imagined switching codes – but is glad he did.

Benny Coulter’s Down minors will compete in Saturday’s inaugural Seamus Heaney Cup final – a tiered All-Ireland competition – for teams who exited their respective provincial championships earlier in the season.

After being knocked out of the Ulster series on scoring difference, the Mourne youngsters have beaten Meath, Limerick and Leitrim and face Westmeath in the Heaney decider at Breffni Park on Saturday (5pm).

“I had to revalidate my pro licence and one of the ways you can do that is by studying another code,” Mullen explained. “Some other guys studied rugby or basketball, I went into Gaelic.

“Shane Mulholland asked me would I go in and coach my local club, Ballyholland, and when I was doing that Benny Coulter asked me to help him with the minors and I’ve tried to do both.”

He added: “I’m lucky with both Ballyholland and Down in that there are a lot of good people involved and you can bounce ideas off each other.

“I’m enjoying it to the point where I’m not missing the soccer. There was a period where I had itchy feet as I was missing it and was thinking of getting back involved in something, I had a few discussions, but they just weren’t the right thing. So, I jumped into this, and I suppose there is a lot of honour to be coaching your own club and the county.”

Mullen says there are many transferrable skills between soccer and Gaelic football, especially in relation to the counter-attack, and being involved in the latter code has reaffirmed his view that there is generally more buy in from Gaelic footballers compared to their soccer counterparts.

“I would say there is better commitment in the GAA. Everybody has their own opinion. For me, there is a lot more pride playing for your county than playing for soccer teams – that’s not across the board, but just my experience.

“There are lads are bursting to play for their county. There’s never an issue with them in terms of attitude or not training properly. They are really proud to pull on the county jersey. It’s something soccer can learn from.

“At Newry, I was trying to build that community aspect, whereas in the GAA that happens automatically from a very early age. Now, you get lots of soccer clubs that have that too.”

Kilcoo’s Barra McEvoy, Paul McGovern, who played for Newry under Mullen, and Lorcan Lynch are among the Down minors who’ve been steady performers this season.

“Benny deserves a huge amount of credit because he’s created a really good team and a really good atmosphere and there’s a good collection of people in there.”

Tony Haveron, Sean Cunningham, Liam Hardy, Paul Murphy, Liam Howlett, Thomas Clark, Paddy Rooney and Thomas O’Hare, alongside Mullen, are the backroom team Coulter has assembled.

“Benny was one of the best forwards in Ireland so he’s a huge amount of knowledge,” Mullen said. “He’s very enjoyable to work and he commands that instant respect from the players.”

Saturday’s opponents Westmeath beat Laois in their semi-final with James McHugh, Cormac McKeogh and Will Scahill (two) among the goal-scorers.

“You’d love to be in an ‘A’ final but it’s a development squad and at the end of the day if these lads win an All-Ireland, it’ll be a great experience for them.”