Darren Mullen pays emotional tribute to his late father after Newry gain promotion to Premiership
DARREN Mullen dreamed of the day he’d be standing getting interviewed by journalists after guiding Newry AFC City to the Irish Premiership.
That dream came true on Wednesday night at Taylor’s Avenue.
An epic two-legged promotion/relegation play-off contest with Carrick Rangers ended 6-3 on aggregate in Newry’s favour.
It was the club’s fourth promotion in five seasons. A staggering achievement.
When Mullen and a few friends decided to reform Newry City, they gave themselves 10 years to return the club to senior football. They did it in half that time.
In the 89th minute and 3-1 up Mullen turned to one of his assistants Raymie Burns and said: ‘I think we’ve done it.’
In the midst of the chaotic scenes at the final whistle, Mullen allowed himself a moment to think of his late father – Raymie Mullen – the club’s biggest supporter, who passed away 18 months ago.
“From we were no age, we all supported Liverpool,” said Mullen.
“It was like a religion in our house. We were playing football in the garden, in the kitchen, in the square. I’ve a lot to thank my Da for, for instilling that love of football in us.
“Being involved in football is great, just to see the joy on people’s faces. My Da would have been there and sharing in the same kind of joy. He died a year-and-a-half ago.
“My mother couldn’t go to the game. She was lighting every candle in Newry. It was very emotional for my sisters too because they knew my Da followed us and was very proud of us.
“I went up to his grave before the second leg and said a few prayers.”
In the early stages of the first leg last Friday night, Newry found themselves two goals down.
Mullen found himself chatting to his father on the sideline.
“We were 2-0 down and I was thinking: ‘Come on, Da. Pull a few strings for me here.’
“And after we did it on Wednesday night I gave myself a moment to think about him. It was very emotional because he followed us everywhere and my brother [Neil] was playing as well.”
In the early days, there were times Mullen doubted whether it was possible to get Newry City up and running again after the club had disbanded in 2012.
“I remember it was about two o’clock in the morning and we had to draw up a new constitution. My wife [Diane] came downstairs and I was sitting typing it up and she said to me: ‘Is this going to be worth it?’
“She went back upstairs and I thought: ‘Is this going to be worth it?’ I did think sometimes if it wouldn't.”
Mullen recalled: “I was driving around Newry trying to sign players and there were more than a few that said no. At the end of the day, I’d no big Irish League career behind me, I wasn’t a big name.
“People knew me in local football and Carnbane League football. I wasn’t coming in with any big reputation whether playing or managing at the highest level.”
But once they won their first game against Bourneview YM in the Mid-Ulster Intermediate League, momentum started to build.
One promotion followed another before they found themselves on the cusp of the Premiership.
“If somebody said to me: ‘You’re going to manage Newry and you’ll be managing in the Premiership’, I would’ve thought it was something out of a Disney film.
“Standing on the side of the pitch getting interviewed about reaching the Premiership is something that I dreamed about,” he said.
“But that was years down the line and you didn’t want to get too far ahead of yourself.”
The father-of-four [Erinn, Eve, Cara and Grace] heaped praise on his coaching staff Raymie Burns, Mickey Keenan, Jervis McCaul and Gary Boyle for their unstinting efforts and loyalty, while captain Chris McMahon, Jimmy Walker and Conor McCaul have been part of the playing staff from the start.
“It’s been a good grounding for me and it’s been a terrific journey for all the coaching staff. It would have been easy for them to walk away but they stayed. They’re really good people.”
Since the club reformed five seasons ago, no Newry players was paid for playing.
But to survive in the thinner air of the Premiership, Mullen is realistic enough to know that major challenges await the club both on and off the field.
“There were teams in our league who have paid a lot of money for players and were expected to do well and didn’t. But you can’t buy the spirit we have…
“The boys are going to have to be rewarded in some manner. There is probably mass panic at committee level at this stage. We’ll enjoy the next three or four days and we’ll have a meeting next week and see what we can do.
“We’re probably away ahead of ourselves on the pitch as opposed to off it, but they’re good problems to have.
“We know it’s going to be very difficult. You’re stepping up a level and we know there will be difficult days ahead, but at the same time these lads deserve to play Premiership football. But we don’t want to go there just to make up the numbers – we want to go and enjoy it, and the only way you enjoy it is by winning games.
“The squad will obviously evolve and, to be honest, I was a wee bit fearful we’d lose a few players if we didn’t get promoted because the league we’ve left is going to be very difficult next season. There is Larne with major finances so it was a good time for us to go up. I don’t think we need to bring a whole lot in, but we'll worry about that later.”