Hurling and camogie

No better plate to spin for Darren Mullen than the Ballyholland camogs ahead of Ulster tilt

The Ballyholland camogs celebrate their county success last October Picture courtesy of Brendan Monaghan

MANAGER and multi-tasker Darren Mullen says some old-fashioned “emotional blackmail” by his family has got him spinning plates with Newry AFC City and the Ballyholland camogs for a second year running.

Newry have raced to the top of the Lough 41 Championship under Mullen, while the Ballyholland camogs step into the deep waters of Ulster.

Mullen will don his soccer hat tonight as Newry seek to extend their lead at the top of the table at home to third-place Annagh United (Newry Showgrounds) before heading off to Randalstown tomorrow with the Ballyholland camogs (Whitehill 12.30pm) for a provincial junior semi-final.

Last year, Mullen was persuaded to take the reins at Ballyholland because they “couldn’t get anyone else” – and with his wife and four daughters all prominent members of the local GAA club, he couldn’t turn them down when approached.

“I was managing Newry and I thought I might as well help my own,” said Mullen.

His daughters Erinn and Eve play on the Ballyholland camogie team, Cara keeps score cards during the games, Grace, his youngest daughter, is part of the coaching team, while his wife Diane sits on the club’s committee.

"My late mother-in-law, Alice Poland, would be doing some laughing at me now managing the team," said Mullen. "She was one of the founding members of the camogie club along with Karen Maginn's grandmother, Mary Coulter, who will hopefully be at the game.

"I'm sure Alice would be extremely proud of her daughters and grand-daughters who are involved throughout the camogie club."

Explaining how he got pulled in to help the camogs, Mullen said: “After the girls won the intermediate championship last year, I thought that was my time done, but I was emotionally blackmailed, if you like, and so I decided to stay on for another year.”

Time management isn’t easy for Mullen who has literally one night off per week – a Tuesday – between coaching Newry and Ballyholland.

“There is a lot of time and effort put into it, but it’ll only last so long. They are a great bunch of girls, it’s great craic, and it’s different from the soccer. They are really willing to learn and listen to you – and they’re definitely easier to manage!

Ably assisted by Gareth Maginn – husband of key player Karen Maginn – Mullen explained that, after a petition, the camogie authorities decided to stage the 2020 provincial championships a year later than scheduled due to the global pandemic rather than not play them at all.

It’s 13 months since Ballyholland defeated neighbours Mayobridge in the county final, having lost the last couple of county finals, and after Randalstown eased past Cavan champions Crosserlough last weekend [2-9 to 1-5], Mullen’s charges are next up for the Antrim champions.

Among his achievements, Mullen guided Newry back to the Irish Premiership a few seasons ago and is aiming to repeat the feat this season – but winning a county title with the Ballyholland camogs last October was a special moment.

“It wasn’t something I expected to do, but it was great to be involved and to see the joy in their faces.

“It’s not as if I brought anything new to the girls in terms of camogie but it was maybe just a bit more tactical stuff,” he said.

“A girl would puck the ball up the field and somebody would say: ‘Well done’, but they were still giving the ball away, so we’re trying to get them to keep the ball a bit more and play smarter. Although I love the game, I never played hurling in my life. I would pick some of the girls for demonstrations rather than me trying to do them!”

Alongside Karen Maginn, Nicola O’Gorman would be another mainstay of Ballyholland with around eight of the current squad having represented their county at some stage in their careers.

Following their intermediate success, Ballyholland made the daunting step up to the senior ranks this season where they faced Liatroim, Ballygalget and Bredagh in a round robin series.

“In terms of preparation, it worked out well because Randalstown are a strong, physical and experienced team and they’ll certainly start as favourites.

"We're delighted to be representing Ballyholland and the county in an Ulster semi-final so after all that we have been through over the last few years it’s a game we are really looking forward to.”

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Hurling and camogie