Mitchel’s lead the charge

John Mitchel's captain Paddy Mulligan
John Mitchel’s captain Paddy Mulligan

Martin Mannering spoke to the captain and manager of John Mitchel’s ahead of their All-Ireland Junior Football Club All-Ireland final with Brosna of Kerry this Saturday

John Mitchel’s will be first into the ring as British based GAA clubs launch an unprecedented triple bid for All Ireland honours. The Liverpool side have blazed a trail to Croke Park with a mixture of exciting attacking football and pure determination not to yield when the heat was on.

When you have seen every ball kicked by a team on a journey like this, it is difficult to remain detached and I must admit when the final whistle blew in Navan two weeks ago I did get caught up in the joy of the moment. After nine games you feel part of the journey but of course one must never let the heart rule the pen.

The parallels between now and six years ago when John Mitchel’s last reached the final of this competition, are uncanny. A narrow victory over Oisin’s in the Lancashire final was followed by a trip to Scotland before overcoming the highly rated London champions in Moindearg. As with this year, the champions of Leinster and Connacht were next to fall albeit in reverse order.

September seems an age ago now when they kicked off in the Lancashire championship and though they have sailed close to the wind on a few occasions there is no doubt Mitchel’s have fully earned their  shot at
glory.

Crucial scores, particularly goals at crucial times, have seen them through while their battling qualities have sustained them when lesser sides might have folded when the pressure came on.

Mitchel’s have hit the net in all but one of their championship matches, that being the Lancashire county final where Oisin’s gave them a mighty fright.

Encouragingly those goals have come from across the forward division rather than being overly dependent on one or two. Colm Murphy, Edward Jackson, John McDermott, Kieran Lynam and Michael Molloy have all put the green flag umpire to work in recent games.

But again it is that often mentioned overall teamwork that has been the stand out feature of their play.

The John Mitche's team
The John Mitche’s team

When they take to the pitch in Croke Park on Saturday evening, Mitchel’s will have five survivors from that agonising one point defeat in 2009. Alan Brown, Sean Rice, John McDermottand Kevin Kane will join captain Paddy Mulligan in attempting to redress the outcome of six years ago.

McDermott and Kane actually retired in 2012 but were enticed back by manager Barry Morris and both have been revitalised this season.

Paddy Mulligan has become the iconic figure of the team and his unassuming leadership by example has clearly rubbed off on his colleagues, particularly the younger members of the squad.

This week the genial Kildare man spoke exclusively to the Irish World on his memories of 2009 and why he feels they are better equipped to complete the job this time.

“2009 was a whirlwind and we were just happy to get home and be able to compete against teams that had won their provincial crowns. In retrospect we were probably a bit naive and didn’t back ourselves to get the job done. The final was a memorable occasion but as with any loss, you are left with regrets. They niggle away at you over the years. I’m delighted that this group has the opportunity to make up for that and do something that has never previously been achieved by a UK based Gaelic football team.

John Mitchel's 2009 final heartbreak
John Mitchel’s 2009 final heartbreak

“We’ve had a challenging journey to the final this year. Since I’ve been over here the standards have stepped up year on year. We face some of our toughest battles in Lancashire and those weekly battles leave the Lancashire champions well prepared for the All Britain. In hindsight, our sternest test in the British championship was against Dunedin Connollys of Edinburgh. As a group it proved the catalyst from which we have achieved our current status with the sense of camaraderie and achievement as we made the long journey back down the road leading to a further step up in intensity with each training session. It felt after that game that as a unit we could achieve something special and a renewed sense of purpose took hold.”

Mulligan reserves special praise for the management team of Barry Morris and Danny McDonagh who also ironically took a break from management before returning in 2013.

“Massive thanks has to go to Barry and Danny who have been the driving force behind the club for many years. They have instilled a massive belief among the squad and are held in huge respect by the players. Also our trainer Colm Gallagher has a growing reputation as a top class coach and ensures every session is focused but thoroughly enjoyable.

“The younger lads in the squad who have joined in the last year or two also deserve great credit for the way they have embraced the ethics and history of this great club. As a club itself we are growing and with the committee making great strides with our underage while the ladies team continue to year on year win titles. This has helped to build a sense of community and is a great social and work network.

“It’s as close to a parish as you will get in any big city but perhaps Liverpool is not just any big city. We’re all eagerly anticipating the opportunity to play in Croke Park and show the quality of football over here. Our efforts over this season and past are at a level which means we have the respect of our opponents and on the day will have us pushing for the title. It will be an honour to lead this group of players to a win against a Brosna team that we are well aware are a top class outfit. If we don’t let the occasion get to us and put in a performance, we know that anything is possible”.

Manager Barry Morris adds: “We are absolutely delighted to be back in the All-Ireland final as it’s been a long hard road for the club trying to get back to this stage. It is just reward for the hard work put in by the players and the background team of Colm, Danny, Christy, Conal and our physios Brian and Paddy.

“But on a wider club perspective, it gives a great boost to the huge work that is currently being put in at our underage levels by a lot of our coaches and parents spearheaded by our youth chairman Brian Finlay. Getting back to the final will give these kids a lift and hopefully the fruits of the work going into our underage will come through to the senior team in the coming years.

“We are looking forward to the final against Brosna, the Munster champions, a province that has dominated this competition since its inception. We will have a huge task on our hands but if we play to the level we are capable of and Brosna have an off day we could be in with a chance.

“Six years to the date has been a long time waiting and I am just hoping that we leave everything out on the pitch with no regrets and hope that will be good enough come Saturday evening.”

There appears to be an unshakable belief amongst this John Mitchel’s team that this is their time. There is no doubt it will be a huge task but if Mitchel’s produce their best, they can bring the title back with them.

Finally back to those parallels with six years ago the opposition will again be from Kerry, time to break the pattern.

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