Louis Mulqueen enjoying Mellows campaign out west
By Cian O'Connell
Green and white is sprinkled throughout Galway city because Liam Mellows are back as contenders in the west.
Following a thrilling year for the Tribesmen in hurling perhaps it is fitting that the game in the town is a source of conversation and hope once more.
Mellows’ splendid setting in Ballyloughane looking across Galway Bay has provided the ideal backdrop for Louis Mulqueen’s latest coaching project.
Mulqueen flared to prominence with St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield and made an impact during a couple of coaching stints with the Clare seniors.
In a wide ranging interview with GAA.ie Mulqueen discusses Mellows’ rejuvenation ahead of Sunday’s much anticipated clash with Gort at Pearse Stadium.
Q: You sampled big days with St Joseph's Doora/Barefield and Clare, how different is it coming into the Galway Final with Liam Mellows:
A: It is totally different. I've been with St Joseph's, Clare seniors, Clare minors, but this has a unique feeling here. It is unusual, I was with Clarinbridge and Galway seniors so I do have experience, but here it has been very unusual. I came up here at the start of the year not knowing what to expect, we have worked hard. They have trained hard and they have been a very good bunch. We've built up a great camaraderie.
What I have found, and it is unique to me is that there is this Galway city club that was a sleeping giant waiting to achieve. Looking at it we've had a good year, they topped their group, we got through a drawn quarter-final, a semi-final, and now they have a chance to play in a County Final. Even at the moment that is a fairytale to achieve this, but they can't just go to a match and not turn up. That is the big thing that we must take the next step.
We've learned a lot throughout the year. I thought we were playing great hurling at the start of the year against Tommie Larkins and Loughrea. Then as the year went on the pitches become heavier. We won our semi-final by scoring 13 points so the hurling has changed. What we have to watch is that Mellows turn up, to have a chance.
I've been with teams before who haven't turned up or in Croke Park in 2002 and Kilkenny had us out of the picture after 15 minutes. Gort are a very good team, I've watched them a couple of times, they are seasoned campaigners. You have lads in Gort, who have been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. For our lads it is a novelty and a new occasion. We can't let the occasion get the better of them.
Q: Deep into winter the physicality of the game can be a test?
A: It is a totally different game in the winter. You are talking about different ground, winter hurling. What is happening at the moment is to score a point is a big achievement. It is slower hurling, but it is more physical and competitive hurling. That is the way it has been for the last couple of games. We've learned a lot throughout the year and I've learned about them. There was one game we were six points down, we didn't give up against Clarinbridge. We have games by a point or two points so they never give up. The big thing for me is you are playing against a very good team, a team that has to command respect.
Gort are a team with four or five players in the Galway senior set-up, who have a couple of County senior medals in their pocket. So we are up against the odds, but we are battling. We've had a good year so far. We are hoping to take it another step in the next 60 or 65 minutes. To me it would be good for them and great for the club in the sense that you've raised the profile, you've got to a stage where they are competitive.
Last year they competed in the relegation final, now they have a chance to compete in a County Final. It has been exciting, it has been a positive year for us all on the hurling field. It has changed, the hurling has changed. At the start of the year it was fast moving hurling, now it is a physical battle. Gort have physical strength and seasons of experience, they are also well able to not panic, to get over the line, they've done it so we are waiting to see what Mellows turns up.
Q: You have put together a nice blend of youth and experience with players like David Collins?
A: Yeah, you are 100 per cent right. I'd love to see John Lee playing too, we've had a couple of injuries, that isn't trying to use an excuse. We've had a lot of seasoned players like Aonghus Callanan, who has been injured for six or seven weeks so that wasn't the Aonghus we had at the start of the year.
Dave is a true champion hurling, he has been an icon in Galway hurling since I've known him. When I was involved with Galway we actually put him in as captain, he has led Galway seniors for 10 or 12 years. He is a fabulous man to have on a club team, he is a leader. Looking then you have a good blend like Mark Hughes coming through, I didn't realise how young some of them were really. You have good players on the fringes of Galway hurling, but it is how they react to the big day is the key. Gort have that little bit of edge on them at the moment.
When you go to play a County Final there is routine, experience, there is the day. Sometimes that fazes young people or people that are new to it. I remember going up with Clare in 2002 to play Kilkenny in an All Ireland Final, we didn't turn up. It passed by a lot of players.
The big thing we must watch is not to let the game pass us by. We must be competitive. If we can be competitive we have a chance, but Gort probably have the slight edge at the moment. We are going to turn up, to try to take it because it has been a success story so far.
They topped their group, they won a quarter-final, a semi-final, now they have a chance to play in a final at Pearse Stadium which is a massive thing for a Galway city club. It is better than watching finals which is what they have been doing for years. Now they have a chance to play in it so it is a unique opportunity.
Q: You came on the scene as an emerging coach with Doora Barefield in the late 90s, but your desire for the game doesn't seem to have diminished?
A: It is still there, you are 100 per cent right. I would have came in as a PE teacher training teams in the 1980s and 35 years later you are still taking a team.
What I like about this is that it is a unique challenge. I was with Clare seniors, I was there three or four years you win an All Ireland, then you are trying to resurrect it again, you win a National League. It is a different profile of sport. Here it was a new project and that is refreshing.
Q: It is Off Broadway?
A: Totally, I know what you mean, but do you know what is good about it, I came up and was presented with a team that was in a relegation final last year. So it was a challenge. It was a challenge to get them working hard together, trying to bond them together.
The big thing I liked was trying to get them to play to their potential, it has worked in a lot of ways. Some of them have started to play better hurling, some of them have started to play better together. We are at the pinnacle of Galway hurling, playing in a County Final, it is refreshing and satisfying if they reach their potential. Even so far it has been a success, you've got to a County Final, the excitement and buzz around it with young children up at training getting jerseys signed.
It is a smaller version of the county scene, but the fact that these players haven't done it before you get a buzz. You are part of something that is fresh and new. You are bringing that happiness and joy to a club that hasn't experienced it. I remember in Joseph's in 97, they were an Intermediate team a few years before that, but we went on a roll winning three county titles and contested two All Irelands, but every time you went to training there was a buzz.
The club was electric and I feel that a little bit here. Mellows wanted success and that is what drives me a little bit. You are a small part of bringing that buzz or desire to a sleeping club.
Q: People in the Mellows club would feel that they belong at this level. So to help to give that to them must be nice?
A: Yes, you look at the Club development plans out there, they have ambition and they have a future plan. That is a great thing to see.
What they need, with all respect, is that they need a bit of a break for success. They've been unlucky in certain underage finals, they are a progressive club. I don't mean it in a city/county divide, but it is a unique thing for a city team to be in a final which has brought an extra buzz and you feel you are helping part of that. It is maybe what keeps me buzzing.
Q: When you arrived was it as much about instilling belief into the panel as it was about improving them as players?
A: Yeah, you are good at these questions, that is an intelligent question! You had to look at a lot of angles, one of them was to get them to play proper hurling.
When you come into a team you are looking at a lot, I came straight from the county scene. So you are looking at the pace of the game, it is a totally slower pace from county to club so you are trying to speed up their hurling. The second thing you are looking at is the camaraderie, is there spirit?
I think that has improved as we went along, I've seen with Mellows that they don't want to lose. Then you are looking for confidence and that comes with winning and results. At the moment, I'm being front up and honest, you will win nothing scoring 13 points.
You will win nothing scoring 1-11, that is how we have got over the line so far. So it was great when my forwards were buzzing against Loughrea, we were playing great in summer hurling, but we have to get moving as a team to have a chance. You are playing a team that been there, done that, and they are physically strong. They have knowledge, they know what to do on a day to win.
This is Mellows next test and that is what I'm looking at. It is actually another challenge. To win the next day is a serious ask, it is a serious event if they could, but it is a massive experience to be playing in a County Final.
It is their first and for some of them it could be the only one they ever see. You have to contain all that, play well and be competitive to have a chance. You aren't just turning up against another team like ourselves and Cappataggle the last day, two teams that didn't want to lose.
Neither of us played breathtaking hurling so anything can happen in a final. We have to be competitive, if you aren't you are up against a very, very seasoned team that has experience and experience is always strong at this level. We have to try to be there or thereabouts.
Mellows are a good bunch, they are great to train. There is a great relationship amongst them which we have to work on and it is fostering that throughout the year. That builds the more success you have. When a team keeps winning it gets stronger and stronger.
We are at the final hurdle, anything can happen in a final. If they get over the line it would be a serious achievement for Liam Mellows and the confidence that would spread through the club for the development of the future. Whatever way the final goes serious work has been put into them throughout the year and they really have benefitted and developed and got better.
Q: When Clare won an All Ireland in 2013 with a classy team, to be training and coaching a team with such skill, was that a hugely rewarding time?
A: At county level you are talking about some days just being breathtaking hurling. You have Conor McGrath and Shane O'Donnell, the ball whizzing around the place.
The next thing you have Tony Kelly, you are dealing with a total different thing. You are taking the best out of every club and training them. Hurling training at that level is different. Hurling at club level is more about battles and fights. That hurling is more Match of the Day hurling, it is fast and moving, it is a different level. I suppose you are also playing against the best from other counties.
When it comes to club level you can't pick, you have what you have. You are working with all shapes and sizes and all levels of hurling, that is a challenge as a coach. If you can bring everybody up a few notches and gel them together you have a team that is your own and your own project.
At county level you'll have someone involved with the backs or forwards or goalkeepers, there is an entourage to the picture. What I'm finding here is I like the fact it is a project you've put together, with other people obviously. It is your own ship you are trying to get over the line.
Q: Coming from a teaching background is it relevant or important that the team you are working with can be assessed quickly?
A: You take Brian Cody for example, there are an awful lot of people involved in teaching that are involved with teams. Others will tell you it is because it is the time they have off, but you are talking about organisation which is probably a skill, especially at club level.
You are always planning or organising. You have a structure to things, some people have that in business equally. You are methodical in what you are trying to do. If you are looking at any training session part of it is for A, part of it is for B. You are building it into match practice, what you want to build into your gameplans, there is a bit of physical work and warm downs.
The whole scene is probably pre-planned. That probably comes from the background you are in, that is the idea.
Sometimes the profession is organised, I've a school that has nearly 700 pupils and 50 plus staff. Maybe you are used to organising or giving orders or whatever you want to do. That type of leadership helps, but hurling a lot of it is having a passion and enthusiasm for it. Another thing is you need a break or two. This year with Mellows we've had a few breaks. You don't come from six points down without getting a break along the way. You don't win a semi-final by a point without a break. Cappy had something like 13 wides, I think they hit four or five into the 'keeper. Two of those would have put us out.
A last minute miss was another factor. It has been enjoyable all year so far. The icing on the cake obviously would be to get over the line on Sunday.
We are underdogs, but we are going to have a shot. We hope to be competitive, if you get a break along the way we could be there or thereabouts. We have to turn up.