Emlyn Mulligan is a good friend of mine. He also happens to be a team mate. When talking about ‘sports people’ we tend to forget about the second part of that phrase – the most important part. People come first even though we often put it the other way around.
For the past week the county has been awash with talk of Emlyn’s football future and where that will be played out. I can confirm here today that he will be playing his football with St. Brigid’s in Dublin – his transfer application has been signed.
Naturally we are disappointed to lose Emlyn. He is a great player who in my opinion is really only starting to come into his best. He was an integral member of our successful Intermediate and Senior Championship winning teams over the past two seasons and he will be solely missed in that capacity. He was also a great lad to have around at training and for a bit of banter whenever we got the chance to socialise together. He’s grown up playing with the Gaels and has forged lifelong friendships throughout that experience. That won’t change even when his club does.
His dedication to both the club and his county was proven by the manner in which he returned from two devastating cruciate knee ligament injuries in the space of two years. That would have tested any player’s resolve. I know firsthand the sort of commitment and character that is required to come back from such injuries.
To have two such soul-destroying blows dumped on you in quick succession is as much a battle of the mind as it is the body and Emlyn came through both elements of the challenge with flying colours. That is why I feel he is only coming into his own now. Last year was an injury free season for the lad and if he can get another few under his belt – combined with the accumulative experience to be gained from playing consistent inter-county football – he has the potential to really flourish. Anyone who saw his first-half performance against St. Brigid’s in the Connacht championship will appreciate that.
Last Friday week we celebrated what was a great year for the club at our dinner dance. We won county titles senior, minor, U16 and U14 grades. Both the present and the future bode well for the club.
After the meal Emlyn and I were chatting. It was the usual banter. Fabian McMorrow’s stag was the previous weekend and he was filing me in on that as I couldn’t make it. I was asking him how he was enjoying life in the big smoke following his move to that neck of the woods to live with his girlfriend. Then he said he wanted to pick my brains about something: St. Brigid’s in Dublin had approached him make a move. And it wasn’t the only club.
However, it was the only club he was considering, mainly because it was the only one that tried to entice him with the promise of potential football glory rather than other incentives.
He wanted to know my opinion because some years ago during a Melvin Gaels players’ meeting I had raised the topic of a transfer. It was at a time when the squad was largely going through the motions and participating in what I saw as pointless underachievement. We were trying to iron some things out and get back on track.
Gareth Phelan asked me why I had become so disenfranchised with the set up and I told the group I didn’t believe in training or playing just to go through the motions. I wanted every session to have a purpose and for us all to work towards a single-minded goal of winning another county title. I was living in Letterkenny at the time and occasionally trained with St. Eunan’s and I tried to impress upon the guys the different effort and attitude those St. Eunan’s lads brought to the few training sessions I attended. The very same effort and attitude the Gaels have had for the past two seasons.
I admitted I had been asked to consider transferring to St. Eunan’s and in the heat of the moment at that players meeting I confessed I sometimes wondered if I had done the right thing by not taking that opportunity. The reason being I wasn’t getting what I needed from club football from the Gaels at that time.
However, I added that winning a county title in Donegal wouldn’t have meant half as much as playing with the Gaels even if we didn’t win a thing, just as long as I knew everyone was giving it all they had. If success came with that it would be a bonus. (The required change in attitude did come, and riding on its coattails was success.)
When I was asked by a member of the St. Eunan’s management team it was in a very respectful way but my answer was immediate and categorical – I could never transfer from the Gaels. I was one of the most senior players and I saw myself as having a huge responsibility in leading the team into the future. My decision was respected and I never received any further pressure or influence.
To my knowledge that hasn’t been the case with Emlyn. He was regularly contacted and cajoled by the club that eventually won out even though he had no previous connection with them. (We’ll touch on that issue again in the New Year.)
I advised him to take some time to think about it, talk to some of the lads and the squad to see if they had some real ambitions to try and push on into Connacht championship football next year, weight up all the odds and make the decision that was right for him. I said the club would be sorry to lose him, not just because of what he brings to the team, but because he’s a good mate. I also said we’d back any decision he came to.
Emlyn spoke about playing with a club with All Ireland ambitions and about the reduction in some of the endless time spent travelling (and Melvin Gaels players travel more than any other Leitrim club player before we take into consideration the endless county commitments). He also noted that if he did make a move it would only be in the short-term as both he and his girlfriend see the northwest as home.
I spoke with Emlyn again on Sunday night. He had made his decision and was looking forward to the challenge ahead. Each Melvin Gael (player and non-player) I spoke to over the weekend wished him every success and appreciated the hard work and commitment he has given to the club from underage on. He has a big challenge ahead and while club football in the county will be the lesser without him, if he really pushes things on in the capital the county side could well benefit from his additional experience. Last words on the issue: best of luck Mugsy, come home soon!