It’s not uncommon for a footballer to have bother sleeping the night before an important match for his club - but Glenea United’s Kevin Mulhern was 3,000 miles away.
Mulhern missed his side’s dramatic Brian McCormick Sports Premier Division title decider against Gweedore Celtic on Sunday at Ballyare as the Glenea captain had plans in place to go to Boston for the summer after the regulation season had finished.
Mulhern’s goal against Castlefin on the final day of the campaign almost sealed a the title for the Glasserchoo side. However, Paul Rua McBride’s late leveller for Gweedore against Milford meant the top two were tied on points and a play-off was needed.
“I only found out 10 minutes after the Castlefin game,” Mulhern said from Boston this week of the moment he realised he would be unavailable. “I was so happy I scored winner and thought the play-off was going to be played the following week but then learned it was fixed for a three weeks later. It was very disappointing knowing I wouldn’t be there.”
Mulhern, who was part of Jim McGuinness’s Donegal senior panel last year, got a sanction passed only last week by county committee to move from Cloughaneely GAA club to Donegal Boston. At the start of the Donegal League season last autumn, few would’ve predicted Glenea would be challengers. Tom Coll had just taken over a young team.
“We were not really up there but we had a few meetings and just said let’s put some effort into training to see what would come from it,” he added. “I genuinely thought we were good enough that’s why I wanted to put such a push. Half the team had played under Tom before at youth level and were very successful.”
Glenea were progressing nicely but their real acid test came when they hosted Hughie Rua Gallagher’s Gweedore in February. The reigning champions had not lost in 13 months.
“Our game at home to Gweedore really opened our eyes and from then we all thought we can do this,” Mulhern said of the eventful 2-1 win, a match in which Darren McGeever scored twice.
Last Saturday night, Mulhern tossed and turned in bed in North Quincy. He had a game on Sunday himself for Donegal Boston against Connemara Gaels in the semi-final of the Pat O’Brien Cup, a week before the championship starts. But all he could think of was home.
“I woke up at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep as I had butterflies in my stomach,” he said. “I nearly felt like I was going to be playing!”
As the morning sun shone in Massachusetts, there was persistent wind and rain back at Ballyare. Coll went through his last instructions before a call came to the dressing room and the phone was put on loud speaker.
“I just gave them a wee phone call to say sorry for not making it and for everyone to have belief and play to their ability because they were good enough and deserved to be there,” Mulhern said. “I spent €50 on credit on ringing poor Eugene McGeever and I’d say he was sick look at my calls coming through. I got some streaming of Highland Radio, too.”
Whilst the game in Ballyare was 1-1 and went to extra-time, the Donegal Boston contingent of Mulhern, Peter Boyle from Ballyshannon, Barney Lafferty and Micky McGinty from Ballybofey made their way to Canton for their own game. McGeever was called again. Shaun McClafferty would save two penalties in the shoot-out in a 4-2 win - Glenea’s first Premier Division title since 2004.
“I was in a car on the way to our game, which we won 1-12 to 1-10, and had Eugene on live all through the penalties. I went mad in the car don’t think the boys knew what I was doing. I text all of them back home and phoned after my game - they were well on the way with celebrations!
“Of course it was disappointing for me not to play but they got the result, which all that matters and there is bigger and better to come from this Glenea team. Well done to them all and I’ll be back in July for week so tell then to keep some celebrations for me!”