GAA Football

Owen Mulligan and Gregory McCartan talk all things Tyrone v Down

Gregory McCartan and Owen Mulligan were on opposite sides when Down and Tyrone last met in an Ulster final in 2003. Now, 14 years on, they have come together to serve the one cause at London club Fulham Irish - Neil Loughran caught up with the pair to talk about everything from strip clubs and sunbeds to bouncing a ball off Brian McGuigan's head and, of course, Sunday's showdown in Clones...

Gregory McCartan gets involved with Tyrone players after his red card in the 2003 Ulster final Picture by Sportsfile

Neil Loughran: Fulham Irish – only formed in 2006, training and home games played in the shadow of the infamous Wormwood Scrubs in west London. Not exactly the place you’d expect to find a couple of All-Ireland winners?

Gregory McCartan: It’s quite apt, isn’t it?

NL: How did it come about? You’ve been manager here for the last couple of years Gregory but you only came over this year Owen...

Owen Mulligan: Yeah, well when I came to London Gregory was one of the first people I phoned because I knew he was taking Fulham Irish and they have a good Tyrone connection.

I’m working with Seamus McNeilis and he’s a lot to do with Fulham as well and Mickey Murphy of Galbally is the captain. I had to come over for a bit of work, so it was a good selling point for me

NL: What is Gregory like to play for?

OM: I suppose I have to be all nice here, do I? Naw look, Greg knows when to have the craic and when to be serious, and that’s why he gets on with the lads.

Whenever Greg puts his foot down, that’s the way it has to be

Everyone but everyone is supporting Down:

NL: You came over and got involved with Fulham Irish, but you obviously dipped your toes back into the inter-county scene as well, playing for London in both their Championship games – both narrow defeats too – against Leitrim and Carlow. What was it like being back involved at that level?

OM: Ahhh, don’t talk to me. I never got a kicking like it in all my life like the last day [against Carlow]. Remind me to keep my mouth shut and stop giving verbals.

But no, when I came over I met Ciaran [Deely, London manager] for a coffee one night and he sold it to me. You always ask yourself can you still do it at a higher level I suppose, and the animal inside got the better of me.

I did a couple of 30 day challenges before I came out with Noel Tierney at Fit-2-Function – eating clean, weights and cardio. I hated it, but I did it.

I was only supposed to go in and help them out but I got wired into a bit of backs and forwards, I held my own, then one thing led to another and I ended up starting the two Championship games.

But it was definitely a harder level. The buzz was brilliant, all the lads were super, but it was a bit weird because you’ve been part of the Tyrone set-up and you’re going into a different county.

But look they all want the same, they all want success, and you couldn’t say a bad word about any of the fellas and I wish them all the best

NL: You’ve been over in London since February, is the intention to stay there for the foreseeable future or have you plans to come back home?

OM: Well me and Greg are thinking of taking over this strip bar so I could be here for a while...

G McC: [laughs]

OM: ...naw, I’m going to stay another year probably. Better wages and a bit of craic as well, and the football’s very good so it’s hard to beat

NL: You’re in the same boat too Gregory, though now that Jim McGuinness is moving to China there could be an opening on the Sky Sports panel for a new pundit. You were canvassing for the job on Twitter before Jim had even told Celtic he was away...

G McC: I’m telling you, all I need’s my teeth done and I’m sorted because I look the part in a suit. The accent could be a problem right enough - I can just see Raymond Abernethy doing some sort of frantic break-dancing in the corner of the screen trying to make sense of what I was saying

OM: I think you’d need a wee electric holiday first Greg, you’re very pale on it


“I spoke to a couple of the Tyrone players privately a few weeks ago. One of their better players, one of their really, really good players, and you should hear what he’s saying in private about how depressing the training is and how they’re playing, and you can see that now.

“I do believe it’s too late to change to a more expansive style. They have the players but what they don’t have is any commitment to attack. That’s been coached out of them”

Joe Brolly

RTE GAA podcast, April 2 2017

NL: Gregory, you’ve made no secret of your distaste for modern football - or “that shite” as you have called it many times in the past - but surely the two Ulster Championship semi-finals must have gladdened your heart?

G McC: Both were fantastic games to watch. Open, attacking football.

Tyrone were absolutely brilliant and it’s actually sort of sad in a way because last year they had the beating of Mayo all over the field but for some reason, they couldn’t break out of that defensive mindset.

If you’re getting beat, you go for the thing. It’s not rocket science. Even if somebody might say to you ‘well, that’s the system’ - f**k the system. If you’re out on the field, you know how long’s left, you have to go and try and win it.

This Down fan knows who's going to win:

OM: I just think Tyrone were playing way too defensive, not completing the run, not completing the attack. They were defending alright but they weren’t taking their points and that’s what killed them last year against Mayo.

Also, they’ve lost twice in two years with pressure kicks – if we can get a free-kick taker that’s maybe a nine out of 10 man or a 10 out of 10 man, Tyrone will go far.

The performance against Donegal was the complete performance. Now I don’t know how good Donegal are, but from talking to people back home, they’re talking about All-Irelands already in Tyrone.

They need to keep the heads down, stay low key.

NL: You would obviously know a few of the lads still about the panel Owen and while they have been praised for the performance of Donegal, Tyrone have taken a lot of criticism in the past year. At one stage a few months ago we had Joe Brolly saying a player had told him he was “depressed” with how they were going. Will that have had an effect on the group or management?

OM: Do you want to beat the team and win medals or do you want to beat Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brolly or whoever? That’s what Mickey would always say. The media never got me going or motivated me, you wanted to win for yourself and your team.

I don’t know if a player said that or not, I just don’t know how true that is. Joe’s the best fella, I get on well with Joe, but you just don’t know...

NL: They answered a lot of those critics in emphatic fashion against Donegal. With Sean Cavanagh spending a fair chunk of the afternoon in midfield, Mark Bradley led the line brilliantly in that game, always providing an out ball if they needed it. Is that what Tyrone have lacked?

OM: I saw Mark Bradley in the Tyrone championship final against Coalisland and he beat them on his own. He’s an exceptional player and he suits that role.

It’s great that Tyrone have that presence up there because they were dropping far too deep and last year in the final against Donegal nobody was in the attacking side of the pitch.

That shouldn’t be the case in Gaelic football.

NL: Down caused the biggest Ulster Championship shock in a few years when they beat Monaghan in Armagh. You played alongside Eamonn Burns for years Gregory, did you send him a text afterwards?

G McC: I didn’t, no, I don’t have his number. I’ll tell you a better one about Eamonn though.

When I was about 14 or 15 at school [St Columban’s, Kilkeel], we got this temporary teacher in and it was Eamonn Burns. He was teaching religion.

Eamonn was only out of St Mary’s and for the first two or three weeks I was messing about in the class and this nun came in one day, she was obviously there to take a look at him, see how he was getting on with the kids.

I walked into the classroom and he took me right to the back of the class and told me that under no circumstances was I to open my mouth. I’m sitting there, the nun was asking all these questions and every time somebody gave a right answer she was turning round and nodding at Eamonn, you know, ‘you’re doing well, you’re doing well’.

She asked this question, and I knew the answer. So I’m at the back of the class waving my hand like a f**kin eejit while Eamonn’s desperately trying to pick someone else to answer the question.

Eventually the nun said ‘this lad at the back, he knows it’. I can’t remember what the question was but I know the answer was St Malachy – I got it right. Eamonn looked over at me and I winked at him as if to say ‘I saved your ass there Burns’

NL: Did you remind to Eamonn about that when Pete McGrath called you into the Down set-up as well?

G McC: All the time. He remembered me alright!

NL: You and Eamonn both played the day you won your first Ulster title in 1994, defeating Tyrone. Having beaten Derry in that famous game at Celtic Park, marking Brian McGilligan, you were up then against Plunkett Donaghy in the final. Do you remember much about that day?

G McC: Yeah that was his last game, do you remember that?

But yeah, players like Plunkett Donaghy, with the blond hair and that, they stay in your head and everybody knew who he was. I certainly knew all about him coming into that game

NL: He must have been the hair idol for a young Owen Mulligan around that time too?

OM: That’s exactly who it was and I’m not even joking you either! I’m telling you, I was a fan of Plunkett Donaghy, a huge fan, he was a legend

NL: The Down team of that era wasn’t short of flamboyant characters, in football terms, but why did it take you so long to nail down a starting spot?

G McC: I came on to the panel in 1990 and Pete was at pains to change the team so you were sort of playing five or six National League games and then getting nowhere near the Championship, and that happened a couple of years in-a-row.

In 1993, I lost my way a bit, drinking and f**king about a bit too much...

NL: So you knocked that on the head...

G McC: Well, I didn’t knock it on the head, I just got cuter and stopped getting caught. But that game against Derry in 1994 was my Championship debut, and the Tyrone game was only my third in Championship football for Down.

I actually ended up involved in three finals against Tyrone – in ’94, ’96 and then in 2003, but I was only on for a short while that day...

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