Gavin Devlin is the best coach I ever worked with: Louth's Sam Mulroy
PRESSURE? What pressure? Being Louth’s talisman, Sam Mulroy insists, carries no pressure, only a privilege. Often described as Louth’s answer to Michael Murphy, the weighty comparison sits easily on his broad shoulders.
Since he burst onto the inter-county scene in 2017, the bustling attacker has been the ‘Wee’ County’s go-to man. When the Naomh Martin's clubman plays he invariably top scores for Louth, and under the guidance of Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin he appears to have found another level.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s top-of-the-table Division Three clash with familiar foes Antrim, Mulroy says he feeds off the expectations placed on him every time he plays for Louth.
“I never really read into whatever other people think,” the 24-year-old, who runs Sam Mulroy Gym in Monasterboice and studies in Jordanstown.
“Mickey [Harte] and Gavin [Devlin] are the ones important to me. But, to be honest, I love the pressure – even if people refer to me like Michael Murphy of my county.
“I think you have to be a little obsessed with it. Actually it’s a privilege to hear people say that. I’ll take that on board, I’ll deal with it and play on it. Some people see that as arrogance – I just see it as confidence in my own ability. I’d back myself to the hilt. So I don’t see it as a pressure. I see it as a privilege.”
In last season’s one-point home defeat to Antrim in Haggardstown, which was Mickey Harte and Enda McGinley’s managerial debuts with their adopted counties, it was a travesty that Mulroy finished on the losing team having hit 2-2 in the Division Four clash.
However, both teams ended up winning promotion and in this campaign to date Mulroy has accounted for a staggering 54 per cent of Louth’s scores.
In winning their first-ever club championship in 2020, Jim McGuinness helped coach Naomh Martin’s to the holy grail.
But, for him, Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin is the best coach he’s worked with, saying he could spend all day on the training field with the Ardboe clubman who was an integral member of Tyrone’s maiden All-Ireland triumph in 2003.
“I absolutely love Mickey and Gavin. I’d say Gavin is my dream coach/manager. His attitude is absolutely infectious. He always talks about ‘what’s your why’.
“Their desire to win after coming from winning All-Irelands with Tyrone and for them to bring their ‘why’ to us is infectious. I could spend all day on the training pitch with Gavin, he’s that good. He’s the best I’ve ever seen coach.
“It’s the belief that he instils in you. He has no problem telling you what he thinks of you as a player or what he thinks you’re good at or what you can work on.
“He’s instilled so much belief in me that he just gets the best out of players. He makes you feel loved and gives you confidence – I think that’s so important, especially for a forward.
“He has just given me so much confidence in my ability. I think what Gavin does and the way he speaks to people is just incredible.”
He added: “I just think the two of them are brilliant at what they do. And when you see Mickey Harte happy after beating a team in Division Three or Division Four, a man who has already won All-Irelands, it’s absolutely amazing.”
Louth’s 2022 League campaign got off to a stuttering start. They slumped to a five-point home defeat to Laois on the opening day of Division Three, leaking three goals in Ardee, before producing arguably a worse display away to Longford a week later.
As he has done so often in the past, Mulroy held his nerve in Pearse Park to send over an equalising free in the eighth minute of stoppage-time.
Since those two under-par displays, Louth have taken flight and banked full points from their subsequent games against Limerick, Westmeath and Fermanagh to put them in with a great chance of back-to-back promotions along with Antrim.
“We lost a good few players from last year,” Mulroy said, “and I think maybe some players weren’t sure what was being asked of them at the start.
“I think after those two matches we stripped it all back and [concentrated on] what we do when we don’t have the ball.
“There were lots of good patches in the Laois match and the desire to win was always there, same in the Longford game. I don’t think the desire was never not there – so that was really important.
“Over the last number of weeks we’re moving more freely and our attacking play is a lot better. That courage, belief and work-rate have always been there.”
Nothing will be decided at the top of Division Three on Sunday but a win for Antrim or Louth would put them within touching distance of a Division Two berth next season and a place in the Sam Maguire.
“I think Antrim are a brilliant side,” said Mulroy, who was also part of the Louth side that suffered an All-Ireland Qualifier loss to the Saffrons in 2019.
“We wasted a lot of chances in last year’s League game against them in Haggardstown. We know what they bring. They’ll bring intensity, they’re hard-working and they’ve got some real quality in there.
“It’s a massive game for both counties and it’s all to play for. We’re fully aware of what Antrim are going to bring and what it’s going to take for us to get over the line. We’re pretty excited about the match on Sunday and I’m sure Antrim are as well.”