Mullinavat proving to be a Kilkenny football success story
By Cian O'Connell
In Mullinavat success and silverware has been attained playing Gaelic Football in recent years.
Three Kilkenny SFC titles on the spin hinted at the promise which existed so Saturday’s AIB Leinster Club Intermediate decider against Louth’s Mattock Rangers is a most welcome surprise.
Provincial victories over Ballyboughal (Dublin) and Rosenallis (Laois) ensure Mullinavat are now preparing for another final.
“There is massive excitement, we are nearly a bit overwhelmed with where we are,” Mullinavat’s Mickey Jones admits. “We are taking it in our stride. We have won three county titles in a row, but before that it was only 2007 when we won our first one.
“At the end of January you start the League, you are training for the hurling, so you'd have a match on a Saturday or a Sunday. It is a nice break from the dreaded pre-season.
“Most fellas from the hurling would play bar one or two guys that don't play because they mightn't have the time. Mainly it would be the same group.”
Mullinavat’s previous two excursions in Leinster were halted quickly, but significant lessons were learned, while the addition of former Wexford manager Aidan O’Brien to the backroom has been a significant boost too.
“We didn't have great expectations, but we did want to make an impact,” Jones says. “We didn't want to be arriving into Leinster every year and be turned over.
“We have done a lot more football coaching this year, training wise. We got in someone who knew something about football, he was with county teams in previous years and he has been a massive help to us. He has got us thinking in a completely different mindset.”
When Mullinavat exited the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship a decision was taken to invest time and energy into football for the rest of 2019.
“We were knocked out prematurely in the hurling, but we said we'd get someone in for the football to give it a go,” Jones remarks.
“We only got him in for the Leinster, we didn't know what way the county Championship would go. We have lads in the panel that would drive it on, they have played with Kilkenny in the Junior Football for the last couple of years.”
Jones is adamant that Kilkenny possess decent footballers and is hopeful that someday soon the county will field a team at senior level in Division Four of the Allianz League.
“Kilkenny football does get a lot of slating from media outside, but they are going on what they see,” Jones adds. “We are in the British Championship, but I know lots of lads in Kilkenny want to get back to Division Four, to try to drive it on.
“I do think it is possible. With the British Championship it is hard for lads with commitments at home, you are travelling every week. At the end of the day it goes back to the club. When the football comes around in Mullinavat you always have lads putting their hands up for spots. It is one of the most competitive panels I have ever been involved in.
“If you went to another club, it mightn't be near the same, they might only be scraping 15, but we are lucky in Mullinavat that lads do have a lot of interest in it. There is something there to be won. It is a Senior Championship at the end of the day. They don't come around too often.”
While predominantly used as a pre-season exercise ahead of the hurling summer, Mullinavat have enjoyed the Kilkenny SFC during the past three years.
“You have 12 teams in it,” Jones explains. “The top four from the League, they qualify into the Quarter-Finals of the Championship.
“The other eight make up the rest. You have plenty of games, but when you get to the latter end the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final and Final could be spread out by two or three months. You are waiting for a gap.
“We had five lads involved between senior and minor inter-county hurling in the last few years. We need them too, there is no point in trying to go out to win without your top senior players.
“We have nobody hurling with Kilkenny at the minute, we had five guys on the senior panel two years ago, it dropped to two last year. It has been a help to the club, we do have the talent. We are fortunate we have so many lads with experience under their belts, it is about trying to get them getting a foothold on the panel.”
Belief has been acquired following Mullinavat’s two stirring triumphs in the Leinster Club. Now the Kilkenny outfit are hopeful about delivering another purposeful performance.
“The last day against the Laois guys we said we'd try to settle ourselves in, to see what happens,” Jones states.
“Obviously defensively we had to be structurally sound, to keep them at bay as much as possible. After 15 minutes we started growing into it and believing in ourselves a bit more. You are going into games and you're not saying we are going to beat these guys.
“At the end of the day if it was hurling we'd be expected to win it. The same going into Saturday if it was a hurling game we'd be expected to win it.
“When it is football we aren't going to be expected. If you asked anyone outside our club you wouldn't get much chat about it. Not that we have massive confidence or anything, but we are where we are. We aren't silly either, we know we aren't a big footballing county.”
Ultimately, though, playing so late into the year has improved Mullinavat considerably. “Massively,” Jones responds instantly.
“We are training three times a week for football which is unheard of. Even through the County Championship or earlier on in the year we just would have done a session or two before the games, then hope for the best.
“The focus is on hurling so much during the summer. The more going on into the winter you can see the lads growing in confidence, the confidence and even their thinking is progressing massively.
“It is definitely after bringing a lot more attraction to players. Everyone wants to train, there is nobody coming down on Tuesday night saying what are we doing again, everyone wants to be there. They are starting to really get a feel for it.”