Darren Mullen getting his boots on in aid of Newry Hospice

Former Newry manager Darren Mullen will take coaching sessions for clubs in return for a hospice donation
Former Newry manager Darren Mullen will take coaching sessions for clubs in return for a hospice donation Former Newry manager Darren Mullen will take coaching sessions for clubs in return for a hospice donation

AROUND four months have passed since Darren Mullen stepped down as Newry City manager – but he admits he’s getting itchy feet for coaching again.

The Newry native, who twice guided the Co Down football club to the Irish Premiership, has come up with a novel and charitable way of keeping his coaching hand in.

Mullen is offering his coaching services to any club, at any level, and in return wants his hosts to make a donation to the Newry Hospice.

Several clubs have already booked the former Irish League manager, who holds a Pro coaching licence, to conduct a session in return for hospice donations.

Newry City have been big supporters of the local hospice and as a gesture wore pink jerseys during their Irish Cup semi-final run two seasons ago to highlight the work doctors and nurses do in the area and the constant need for financial support.

Mullen wanted to put some of his new-found spare time to good use and with his wife Diane working in the hospice and fundraising officer James McCaffrey very receptive to the idea, the ex-football boss is happy to be donning his football boots again.

“I’ve had a four-month break and I just missed the coaching element – not the management side of it,” Mullen explained.

“So, I thought, how can I do that without committing to any one club because I’ve had offers but it just didn’t suit, and I wouldn’t want to jump into anything at this stage.

“And with my wife [Diane] working for the hospice, I know how important it is, they constantly need funds. I contacted James McCaffrey and he thought it was a great idea and it snowballed from that.

“While Diane wouldn’t talk in specifics about her work in the hospice, I know how difficult an environment it is, particularly for the nurses and doctors who are dealing with the patients and families involved.

“The atmosphere that’s created by the people who work there makes it as easy as possible for those who are visiting and patients who are there because it’s a difficult time for anybody as it’s palliative care.

“It is a vital service and a badly needed facility. By doing this, I’m not raising massive amounts of money for them but whether it’s myself or others who want to contribute to the hospice… if people didn’t have that attitude, the hospice would miss out on important financial support.

Mullen added: “The hospice is a big part of the community that has touched so many. Everybody knows somebody who has had to go into the hospice at some point. It’s a brilliant facility and I can’t speak highly enough of the people who work there.”

It’s a good way for the affable Ballyholland man to start coaching again. Mullen did trojan work to resurrect Newry City over 10 years ago and left his beloved club in senior football at the end of last season.

“It was the right decision to step away when I did,” Mullen said. “The break was needed. I’ve gone on a couple of holidays, done whatever I’ve needed to do. But now I’ve got itchy feet in terms of coaching.”

Mullen wants to get involved at senior level again but would prefer a coaching position rather than a managerial one, although he is no rush to return just yet.

“I’ve been down watching Newry and I’ve enjoyed having a beer at half-time with a few friends.

“It was strange because you’ve gone from managing the team and being on the front-line, if you like, to standing with the boys in the stand.

“I spoke to Gary [Boyle, now Newry manager] before and said: ‘Don’t be beating yourself up too much if you lose a game” because I did that for long enough and it can be a lonely place standing there and he confirmed that after the Loughgall game. But they’ve done great since that defeat.

“I’d like to get back into the game. I worked hard to get to Premiership level and coaching at that level is something I’d love to be doing. I’m not in any rush to get back into management, but coaching at that level would interest me. When it happens, it happens. I’m not sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, and this hospice initiative is something I’ll enjoy over the next few months.”

Mullen has learned so much since embarking on the coaching road around 14 years ago, experiencing so many ups and downs during that time and guiding Newry to numerous honours.

“What I learned is that you can’t control everything,” he said. “There is only so much you can do as a coach or a manager. I was conscious of doing whatever I could to prepare the team.

“In the early stages, you were beating yourself up after defeats but that only comes with experience and age. You see Gary Neville admitting he wasn’t ready for managing Valencia because he didn’t have his coaching voice or hadn’t done his coaching hours. You need to do that. And you need to learn that you’ll make mistakes.

“You see in the Irish League that people are quick to dismiss managers, or younger managers – but it’s very, very difficult. You need good recruitment, good people around you, you need breaks because it takes a while to find your feet. Thankfully, now, I’ve got a lot of experience that I can refer back to when maybe things aren’t going so well. So, it’s been a big evolution from coaching four or five-year-olds with a notepad to finishing off my Pro licence and managing Newry for 10 years.”