By Eoghan Cormican
Vincent Mullins is decking the front garden in maroon and white. He’s the last to do so on this particular stretch of Ardrahan road. There’s a heightened sense of excitement around these parts, what with Jonathan Glynn living next door and all.
Glynn wasn’t the purpose of our call, but it wouldn’t make sense to allow the conversation pass without mentioning the 6’4” man-mountain.
Mullins is one of four men, along with Glynn’s father, Martin, looking after the Ardrahan seniors and is effusive in his praise of the 24-year-old’s dedication to both club and county this year, Glynn having made many a trip across the Atlantic to pull on either the maroon of Galway or the blue of his native club.
Mullins’ connection to this Galway set-up runs far deeper than being a next-door neighbour to one of the players. Back in October of 2004, the then Galway U21 manager was asked to take charge of Connacht for their inter-provincial semi-final away to Ulster.
Four days wasn’t a huge amount of notice and with his U21 selectors unavailable for the trip to Belfast, Mullins had to go and assemble a backroom team.
He and Micheál Donoghue were friendly through their respective work in the car sales industry and with injury having prematurely ended the latter’s hurling career, Mullins knew the young Clarenbridge man had an inkling to get involved in management.
Donoghue was wing-back on Galway’s 1992 All-Ireland minor winning side, part of the U21 team that defeated Kilkenny in the ’93 decider, after a replay, and was that winter invited into the senior set-up. It is here when injuries began to derail his rising graph.
A broken collarbone was followed by surgery to address a bulging disc in his lower back. He was there in ’96 when the seniors lost to Wexford in the All-Ireland semi, but two further operations, again on his lower back, either side of captaining Clarenbridge to a first county title in 2001, saw him forced into retirement at 28.
“I wanted Micheál involved as a selector for that inter-provincial campaign because I knew he was a shrewd operator,” Mullins recalls.
“Niall McInerney, God rest him, also came on board, but suffered a brain haemorrhage between the semi-final and final and so wasn’t with us when the final came around – the last occasion Connacht won the Railway Cup.”
Donoghue had no problem offering instruction to players his own age and the ease at which he adapted to life on the sideline prompted Mullins to offer him a role as selector with the Galway U21s. Donoghue accepted, serving four years. In 2005 and ’07, the Cross of Cashel went west.
“Man-management and communication, you knew there was something there. He was excellent with players, developed a great rapport with them. His knowledge of the game and the detail he put into game-plans was top-class.”
They finished up in the summer of 2008, the same time as Ger Loughnane’s tenure as Galway senior manager came to an end. Mullins was in the running to replace the Clare man, with Donoghue part of his ticket. John McIntyre ended up getting the gig and so off went Donoghue looking for his next challenge.
He didn’t have to look very far.
The Clarenbridge bainisteoir bib was thrust in his direction in 2009. Further teeth cutting.
David Forde was full-forward when the ’Bridge halted Athenry’s four-in-a-row bid back in 2001. His abiding memory of that county final is Donoghue inviting Pat Burke to lift the Tom Callanan Cup with him. Burke, a member of the panel, had suffered a very serious workplace accident in the weeks previous.
“Micheál was about to become the first ever Clarenbridge man to lift the county cup. It was going to be a huge moment. And yet, he got Pat and was happy to share the moment with him. It says a lot about his character,” Forde remarks.
“As captain, he’d make sure everything was right in the set-up so every player was comfortable and could focus solely on their hurling. It was no different when he was the manager.”
Forde, centre-forward on the Galway team which came up short in the 2005 All-Ireland final, jokes that he wasn’t getting any quicker ahead of the 2010 season.
“Micheál had been our centre-back for so many years and for that campaign he decided to move me into the number six slot. He told me he had full faith in me going back there. Sure, that filled me with confidence because I knew I wasn’t going to be switched out of there after a couple of games. He taught me a lot in terms of how to read the game from centre-back and how to play that position.”
With just three points garnered in the group stages, they managed to squeeze into the quarter-final. From there, it took off. Loughrea beaten, after a replay, to deliver the ’Bridge a second county title. There was that spectacular All-Ireland semi-final win over De La Salle and a swashbuckling performance to crush O’Loughlin Gaels in the St Patrick’s Day decider.
“The biggest thing he did was put in place a really good backroom team,” Forde continues.
“He brought in a top physio, Noel Burke, who made sure everyone stayed injury free. He brought in a really good coach, Tom Helebert. He put structures in place so that everyone started to enjoy their hurling.”
There were also guest appearances from Eamon O’Shea, Liam Sheedy and Eric Elwood.
“Micheál is a players’ man. I won’t say that was new to us, but he’d always ask how you were feeling and get your opinion on how we should play. You felt your input was considered. Obviously, it led to players wanting to succeed for him.
“He got the absolute maximum out of us and we probably wouldn’t have won that All-Ireland but for him.”
Forde concluded: “No more than his brother, Liam, and his dad, Miko, he is an icon in Clarenbridge. He always has a word for everyone. After all the Galway matches, he’d come down to the village, have a drink and chat away to everyone. There are no airs or graces with Micheál.”
1992: Half-back on Galway’s All-Ireland minor winning team.
1993: Member of Galway’s All-Ireland U21 winning team.
1996: First championship start for Galway seniors.
2001: Centre-back and captain of the Clarenbridge team which defeated Athenry on a scoreline of 0-18 to 2-11 to secure the club its maiden Galway senior title. Athenry were reigning All-Ireland club champions at the time.
2004: Brought in as Connacht hurling selector in mid-October.
2005-08: Galway U21 selector.
2010-11: Managed Clarenbridge to a second Galway SHC title and a first All-Ireland club SHC title.
2012-13: Manager of Turloughmore senior hurlers.
2014-15: Part of Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea’s backroom team.
2015: Appointed Galway manager in December following the controversial departure of Anthony Cunningham.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.