GAA Football

Tyrone's baby-faced David Mulgrew growing up fast

Tyrone's David Mulgrew tries to fend off Down Peter Turley during last Sunday's Ulster finalPicture by Philip Walsh.
Francis Mooney

He's the baby of the Tyrone team, but David Mulgrew is growing up fast.

At just 19, the Ardboe starlet was the youngest player to feature in last Sunday's Ulster SFC final, three years the junior of any other who started at St Tiernach's Park.

It's an established norm that players expect to have to serve an apprenticeship and bide their time before establishing themselves in Mickey Harte's team, but it's no surprise that exciting attacker Mulgrew has been fast-tracked.

He has played in all three of the Red Hands' Ulster Championship games this season.

His impact as a sub in the first round win over Derry was so impressive that he won a starting slot against Donegal and Down, and looks set to hold on to his number ten shirt as Tyrone head for Croke Park.

“It's definitely a great feeling. I have to thank Mickey. He has shown belief in me, and he gave me a start in the Ulster final,” he said.

Now in his second season in the Tyrone squad, Mulgrew received his call-up late in 2015 while still playing minor football.

Remarkably, he was a member of the senior panel before he had even graduated to the U21 set-up.

“Last year I wasn't really making the team, but I always visualised trying to get on to the team. At times I never really thought that I would get the chance.”

Croke Park will hold no fears for Tyrone's rising star. He played in the 2013 All-Ireland minor final aged just 15, when defeat to Kildare brought a disappointing end to the first of his three seasons at that level.

“It will be great to get back to Croke Park, that's where you want to play, and there's plenty of experience in the team of playing there,” he said.

The teenager has had to learn quickly in order to equip himself with the skills, strength and athleticism required to play the Tyrone way.

His natural instincts as an attacker have had to be curtailed at times when extra bodies are required for the defensive effort.

“It's tough when you have to defend and try to get forward as well. But that's the game plan. That's what Mickey wants me to do and I'll do it.

Mulgrew was one of those who gave way in the second half as a stream of substitutes came in to make a massive contribution to the final push for victory over Down and second successive Ulster title.

“Every man that comes on makes an impact. You see Ronan O'Neill coming on and scoring two goals. There's that strength in depth and there's a great bond in the team and that's what you need.”

And as preparations continue for a quarter-final against either Armagh, Monaghan or Kildare, the Red Hand youngster recalls his introduction to an iconic squad.

“I remember the first time I came into the changing room and saw them, they were massive, and to get playing with them is unbelievable.

“I was watching Sean (Cavanagh) when I was a young cub and always looked up to him. And to be playing with him now is just brilliant.”

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