Football

I am from Louth and I am good: Sam Mulroy

Sam Mulroy will make his first appearance in a Leinster final on Sunday against Dublin
Sam Mulroy will make his first appearance in a Leinster final on Sunday against Dublin

SAM Mulroy is from Louth and he is good. Sometimes you need to preach the gospel yourself. You need to speak it - and others need to hear it.

It helps, of course, if you are good. And Louth's totemic forward is exactly that.

It may sound egotistical, narcissistic even for Mulroy to publicly back himself against anybody on the inter-county circuit – but when you’ve spent your entire playing career listening to others telling you where Louth's modest place in the world is, you have the right to object.

Good results help, too.

After Louth's dramatic extra-time Leinster semi-final win over Offaly, manager Mickey Harte was asked did he consider substituting Mulroy after the forward struggled for form during normal time.

Tyrone's three-time All-Ireland winning manager replied: "Well, would you take off Messi?"

Harte might have considered a less lofty comparison, but the point was rammed home to the questioner of the absolute importance of Mulroy to the Louth cause.

Context is important, too. Mulroy suffered a "Grade 2C" hamstring tear in Louth's NFL Division Two win over Kildare on March 5 and was expected to miss 12 weeks.

He was back after roughly seven weeks and knows he runs the risk of re-injury.

In extra-time, Mulroy kicked five points to end Offaly's resistance and helped book Louth's first Leinster Championship final appearance since 2010.

Growing up, Mulroy "hated" the way Louth football was viewed. Also-rans. An after-thought. Championship fodder. Barely decent. Never taken seriously.

“I always think back to when I was 17 or 18 and when I was made Louth captain for the minor team," Mulroy said, "and I hate looking back now and probably standing back… I don’t know what the word I’m looking for is… but there was a lack of respect maybe of what we were.

“I don’t think anybody respected Louth and I hated that. Even for myself at the time as captain, I definitely felt that.

“So I always had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder for not backing myself at that age. So, when I was made Louth senior captain I just thought, well this has to change.

“That’s what I wanted to portray: ‘Yeah, we are from Louth and yeah, so what? Why can’t we be good? Why can’t we have teams that are winning Leinster? Why can’t we compete in the All-Ireland series? Why can’t we have Allstars?”

Since breaking into the Louth senior set-up in 2017, he always carried a weighty reputation from his minor days as well as his prolific scoring stats with his club St Martin's.

He didn't back away from being compared to the likes of Donegal's Michael Murphy and, if anything, embraced it.

In an interview with The Irish News last year, Mulroy said he would "back himself to the hilt" and saw it as a privilege to be spoken about in the same breath as Murphy.

“It’s a funny one and it’s one I’ve probably taken a lot of criticism for over the last year or 18 months," he said.

“Those comments start to get thrown around about you. I don’t think I’ve ever shied away from it – I still back myself to the hilt.

“People call it arrogance. It doesn’t bother me. When you’re going well they’re calling you this (good things), but if things are going bad you can’t shy away from it either.

“It’s funny, even reading the comments after the weekend [Offaly win], people are calling for your head, saying you’ve had a bad game.

“But when the question is asked about myself or I speak about myself, it’s not for me – it’s not for Sam Mulroy. It really is a bigger picture of Louth.

“So, there was a bit of, yeah, I’m going to put my head on the block here and I’ll take the critics. I don’t care as long as we get Louth back to competing at a high standard.

“Yes, it’s tough at times, I suppose, when it’s my head on the block a lot - but I’m okay with that.”

People like Mulroy, Niall Sharkey, Conor Grimes and Ciaran Downey have certainly got tongues wagging about Louth’s impressive trajectory ever since Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin took charge of the ‘Wee County’ footballers.

They were Derry and Dublin’s strongest challengers in pursuit of the two promotion berths to Division One this year.

They came from eight points down in their Leinster quarter-final to dismiss Westmeath and their superior conditioning and accuracy saw off Offaly in extra-time of their semi-final.

Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin have helped transform Louth Picture by Seamus Loughran
Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin have helped transform Louth Picture by Seamus Loughran

They face Dublin in Sunday’s Leinster final at Croke Park. After Dublin’s close shave against Kildare, Lilywhites manager Glenn Ryan bemoaned the perceived advantage of the Dubs playing nearly all of their games at Croke Park.

While loving the prospect of playing at headquarters on Sunday, Mulroy acknowledged that Ryan’s point was valid, but added: “I don’t want it to sound like this with us going into play Dublin in Croke Park because it’s where we want to be.

“I’m not using it as an unfair advantage. It is what it is and there’s no point coming out now [and complaining] because whether you win or lose you’re talking about the wrong things at the wrong time. I think if something needs to be done it has to be done at the start of the year when there’s a clean slate.

“It’s kind of a weird one because we’re going into Croke Park as a team that probably hasn’t played there an awful lot over the last number of years, but it’s such an experience, it’s absolutely incredible.”

The 2010 Leinster final was marred in controversy when Joe Sheridan appeared to throw the ball into Louth’s net that gifted Meath the title.

It’s an old war wound that will probably never heal among Louth people.

“I remember standing in the Hogan Stand balling my eyes out when that goal was given and the whistle was blown. There was a lot of annoyance as to what happened. It was the classic ‘poor, old Louth’ – but hopefully we can change that.”

As Mulroy prepares for his first Leinster final appearance, the former UUJ student has a good, clear eye on what this team’s objective is going forward.

“It’s about getting young people excited about Louth football and wanting to play for Louth,” he said.

“I’ve always said that’s one of my main goals, as a player, that we leave the jersey in a better place, with a bit of pride. We are a small county with two massive League of Ireland [soccer] clubs and there’s a lot of competition with rugby and soccer and I suppose that’s a challenge for Louth GAA.

“I feel my job and our jobs as players is to represent Louth as best we can so that young lads are making choices to hopefully play for Louth GAA over Dundalk or Drogheda.

“It’s a culture change and getting to a Leinster final is massive. When I think back to when I was 12 years of age watching Louth in a Leinster final, it was dreams come true. I’ll never forget the Leinster semi-final against Westmeath, or the quarter-final against Kildare – I could list them all.

“That’s what I grew up watching and that’s what I want to create for young players now. We are on the way. Mickey and Gavin are a massive part of that and hopefully we can continue on that trend.”