Mulligan ready to keep working to bring more success to Tyrone
“Everybody says it was natural talent but I beg to differ because I was up at the pitch every night. If I was going out for a pint I’d make sure to do a six- or seven-mile run before it - and I’d be the first one up to do another one the next morning.
“People have a perception, but they don’t know that about me. I’m in the gym every day, I still do it faithfully.”
If you only read or heard those quotes, without any accompanying images, you probably wouldn’t guess that Owen Mulligan had said them.
‘Mugsy’ may have partied hard in his heyday, but he has always worked hard too, on and off the pitch.
Back home from London this year, after ending his role in site management with construction company JJ Rhatigan, he’s running bars in his hometown Cookstown and also Liverpool.
As for football, perspiration has to go along with inspiration there too.
“If you don’t work at something you’re not going to be good at it. Sometimes I go up to the Cookstown Fr Rock’s pitches and there’s not one up there kicking points over. It’s sad to see that.
“For me as a coach you have to teach that sort of thing. It sickens me to see my own club in junior football. Hopefully everybody can benefit from me going in here.”
Mulligan himself is delighted to get the opportunity to work with the Tyrone U20s, joining manager Paul Devlin and former playing colleague Dermot Carlin.
The contact came as a surprise, he admits: “It was Dermy who rang me first, I think he was ‘fishing’, he was asking about London. I hadn’t heard from Dermy in a while, apart from the odd text.
“He rang me out of the blue, chatted about London, Liverpool, and Cookstown - then asked my take on coming in to give a hand with the Tyrone U20s…
“I was taken aback at the very start, to be honest, and flattered more than anything. It’s probably a route I want to go down later on. I thought I was going to take a year out.”
Age had finally caught up with him on the pitch, he says, despite his ability: “I tried to play a bit of junior football last year with Cookstown. It was great to be back but my head was telling me to go and move all over the pitch but my legs were just not doing that. The head was cashing cheques but the body was bouncing them.
“It was great to be back among the lads but I knew my playing days were over.
“Trainer, selector, whatever you want to call it, that’s something I’d be passionate about. When Tyrone come calling it’s very hard to say ‘no’.”
Mulligan had already stepped into management, taking Fulham Irish to the London SFC Final in 2019 and was in charge again last year before the coronavirus crisis intervened.
“I really enjoyed it. I played two years under Gregory McCartan and the lads were exceptional. The committee then asked me to manage them and I was a bit hesitant. If you’ve played with lads for a while… I had to cut all ties. I didn’t want to go out drinking with them. I closed myself off from them and tried to do it as professionally as I could.
“I’ve worked under some great managers: Mickey Harte, Brian McEniff, Joe Kernan, and you take a couple of snippets from those boys.”
Mulligan is thrilled to continue his journey along the sideline, especially given the talent in Tyrone.
“It’s a great chance to get into that management role. I’ve always been a player, and the management role was different for me. I really enjoyed it but I didn’t think I’d get this call to go in and help Tyrone.
“The success Tyrone are having at the minute, anybody in their right mind wouldn’t turn that down.”
He aims to bring enthusiasm, remind players that it’s a game to be enjoyed, and to man-manage players appropriately. Mention is made of the late free missed when Tyrone narrowly lost this year’s All-Ireland Minor Football Final:
“Absolutely it has to be enjoyable. That’s easier said than done because it’s turned so professional. There’s a lot of pressure on young lads.
“The lad who missed that free kick, he needs an arm around him. He’ll have better days, that’s what he needs to be told.
“It’s a big, bad world out there, it’s not just about dealing with football, it’s everyday life. If I can tell them to keep the head up, they’ll benefit.
“I think I’m not bad at that. I know when a player needs frozen out or dropped. I know when a player needs a talking to. I also know when a player needs an arm around him to get his confidence back up. Some managers I’ve played under didn’t do that, but I intend fully as a coach to do that sort of thing.”
He’ll also cultivate a ruthless streak in players, though, urging players to aim for the top, always seek to better themselves:
“The way I always see it and the way I’ll coach it is that you have to be able to pull any of your team-mates out of the road to get onto this team.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s your friend or your brother, you have to do your utmost to get onto the team. You don’t care who you offend, you don’t care who you fall out with, if you want that jersey number from 1 to 15.”
Mugsy’s own inclusion was only confirmed at the weekend: “I didn’t tell anyone until I met Paul and Dermy on Sunday night. I had a good chat with Dermy and Paul, we have the same ideas, we seemed to hit it off straightaway, what they wanted and what I wanted.
“That’s what made my mind up, that everybody’s singing off the same hymn-sheet. We’ll meet the U17 management as well, everybody is pulling together for the Tyrone cause.”
And the work will continue…