Darren Mullen bids a fond farewell after 10 years at Newry City

Darren Mullen has stepped down as Newry City manager after 10 years
Darren Mullen has stepped down as Newry City manager after 10 years

After a tumultuous 10 years at the helm of Newry City FC, where he helped resurrect the club and twice guided them into senior football, Darren Mullen bids a fond farewell to a club that runs through him like a stick of rock.

After securing their Premiership status with a 2-2 draw against Ballymena United last weekend, the affable Newry manager has decided to step down. Mullen talks to Brendan Crossan...

Brendan Crossan: How did you feel when the final whistle sounded last Saturday knowing that Newry City were staying in the Irish Premier next season?

Darren Mullen: It was a long week as there were a lot of ifs, buts and maybes as to how the day might pan out. I knew from the start of the season this would be last year.

The ideal scenario would have been to win the Mid-Ulster Cup and stay up automatically, and that has happened. I know Portadown were on a bit of a roll but I just fancied Dungannon because they’re a good side.

At one point on Saturday, we were 2-1 down and Dungannon were 2-1 up and I thought that it was going into the last week, which we would have dealt with, but we wanted to get it done and dusted. We obviously got the equaliser and there was huge emotion with that.

The two minutes of injury-time was the longest two minutes I’ve ever experienced. When the referee blew the whistle, there was more relief than anything else and realising that we’d stay up.

BC: Newry City is now in your rear view. Have you come to terms with that?

DM: I’ve been here 10 years and I remember speaking to Robbie Casey and he said: 'Listen, this will take you 10 years to get to the Premiership.' Ten years later, we are in the Premiership but in between that time has been brilliant.

There were a serious amount of highs and lows to get there. It’ll only be after this week I’ll have a think about what I’ve done and the amount of good times that were in it.

I’m not one for reminiscing because there is so much to do and I live in the moment. When I do sit back and reflect on it next week, it will be emotional.

BC: Was keeping Newry in the Premiership this season your greatest achievement?

DM: Absolutely. Getting into the Premiership is hard but staying there is even more difficult because you’re up against full-time teams. I don’t want to come across as paupers in any way because the club will continue to grow, but we’re still miles off others – even in terms of recruitment.

We brought lads in on loan along with that core group that’s been terrific for us. For us to finish 10th and to win the Mid-Ulster Cup, that’s as much as we could have achieved.

BC: What was the lowest point of the season?

DM: The Portadown defeat when we were 3-2 up with three minutes of injury-time left and we lost 4-3. Losing to H&W Welders in the Irish Cup was hard to take as well, but the players were brilliant around that period.

BC: Was there any moment in the season where you actually disliked coaching?

DM: Numerous times! David Jeffrey gave me a hug after the match on Saturday and said: ‘People will never realise what you’ve had to go through here unless you’re actually in the middle of it, the mental torture that you go through.’

I’m a local fella, everybody’s talking to me about it and everyone has their own opinion on it. I don’t pay a lot of heed to social media but other people have told me bits and pieces.

So, you’re always questioning yourself as a manager, that demon on your shoulder if you like. But it’s a good experience in terms of mental strength and coming through it. But, I have to say, the reward is worth it.

BC: Was there much criticism of you during the season?

DM: Not a lot. But if you’re worried about criticism, you shouldn’t be a manager. People will say things off the cuff that they wouldn’t normally say in the cold light of day. But criticism is something you’ve got to accept. That’s just part of it. And if we got criticised this year, it was justified. Some of our performances weren’t good enough and we took that criticism and turned it around.

BC: Six months down the line, what will you miss about Newry City?

DM: The craic in the coaches’ room. That’s an area where you close the door and whatever is said in there, stays in there and you can release your frustrations in a way you can’t in front of the players. Those lads would give you a laugh and a lift. That’s something I’ve been very, very lucky with. The coaches have been a great source of support.

BC: To haul Newry City into football again some 10 years ago: was that not your greatest achievement?

DM: It’s only when you say that I've started thinking about it in terms of achievement.

BC: You could have walked away and coached somewhere else…

DM: Yes, but it’s the love you have for your local club. I have had offers over the years and I’ve turned them down because I had more to give to Newry, but I’m at the stage now where I have done my bit and it’s time for someone else to step in.

BC: Was it claustrophobic at Newry at times, being local and being there for so long?

DM: Look, it is difficult because I would take that pressure on my shoulders and being local. I know how it affects everybody because I’ve relatives that play for the club, relatives and mates that come down and support Newry so I know how much it means to them. But nobody put more pressure on me than me to succeed. Sitting where we are now and where we were 10 years ago, I think I’ve done a decent enough job.

BC: What’s the future?

DM: I'm not sure. I love coaching. I like being out on the pitch. I've got my 'A' [UEFA coaching] licence. Whenever things settle down there’ll be a new challenge and I’ll just see what happens.