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Mulroy Determined Not To Take A Step Back

April 11th, 2024

By Paul Keane

With three minutes of their 2020 Leinster SFC tie against Longford remaining, Louth’s Sam Mulroy swung over a point from a tight angle on the right to level the game.

It brought both Mulroy’s and Louth’s tally for the day to 1-7. They didn’t score again though as Longford rallied with late points from Darren Gallagher and Robbie Smyth to advance.

And that was that. Almost as quickly as the 2020 Championship had begun for Louth, it was over, the All-Ireland qualifiers parked because of the pandemic.

Mickey Harte took over 22 days later yet as far as Mulroy is concerned, the recovery process and drive for improved standards was already underway.

“It was after that Longford match, I still remember it, we played on the Sunday and we were in the gym on the Wednesday,” said Mulroy. “It was like, ‘Let’s get after this and see what we can do now’.

“The players recognised that we needed to do something and that we can’t be getting knocked out in the first round of the Championship every year.”

Harte then was pushing an open door when he arrived from Tyrone, intent on improvement and armed with a brilliant coach in Gavin Devlin to help make it happen.

Four years or so later, and with plenty of water under the bridge, Louth find themselves at the start of another Championship campaign but with much loftier goals.

They have spent two seasons in Division 2 and last year reached a first Leinster final since 2010. Harte has been and gone but Mulroy is confident that the same appetite for improvement which drove the Louth players back to the gym just days after that painful loss to Longford in 2020 will sustain them.

“It’s a credit to everything that’s gone on in Louth over the last few years, a credit to the players and the management teams that we’ve had over the last few years, bringing it to the next level,” said Mulroy.

“Money, time and effort has been invested into what we do and it’s not just looked upon as a ‘Ah, it’ll be grand’ sort of attitude. It’s been way more fulfilling to put on the red jersey at the minute and know we can go and mix it with teams. We’re striving for better all the time now.”

Presuming that Mulroy starts against Wexford in Sunday’s Leinster SFC quarter-final in Portlaoise, it will be his 17th Championship appearance. His first two appearances were as subs against Wicklow (2017) and Leitrim (2018) though his first start was also against Wexford in 2019. The frustrating thing at the time was that Louth couldn’t seem to make any forward progress, losing four Championship games in a row between 2019 and 2021.

“For me, when I look back over the number of Championship appearances that I made before last year, I could count them on two hands,” said Mulroy, who started all six of Louth’s Championship games in 2023, returning 1-32.

“It was a case of, ‘Can we change that and compete to the latter end of the Championship?’ That’s where you want to be. The players recognised that and it was heavily backed by Mickey and Peter Fitzpatrick.”

Harte was replaced by All-Ireland winning Dublin defender Ger Brennan for 2024. For Mulroy, the initial target was to stay in Division 2, something they achieved with wins over Cork, Fermanagh and Kildare. Against Fermanagh they put 6-17 on the board.

“I think that was the big aim for this year, to ensure that we didn’t take a step backwards and while some results didn’t go our way I thought the group showed serious character to stay up in Division 2 with all the change that has happened,” said Mulroy.

“A team has to learn and grow with new management and the character shown by the lads to come together with the new management and to stay in Division 2 was massively important. It has been an exciting journey so far.”

Mulroy is determined to put the lessons of last season’s blockbuster ties against Dublin, in the Leinster final, and Kerry, in the All-Ireland group stage, to good use.

“Obviously we went out aggressively against Dublin and paid the price,” he said of their heavy Leinster final defeat. “The same against Kerry, we felt we had a free crack and we didn’t perform. You were out then before it started really. It was one of those where we paid the price.

“Looking back, Dublin were nearly beaten by Kildare last year, that was the game before we played them and we got the brunt of that. Kerry were the same, they were beaten by Mayo and Cork ran them close and then we got the brunt of it. It felt a little bit like that.

“We took massive learnings from those games of where we need to get to and the gaps we need to close. It’s about not having those performances this year and having a bit more consistency.”


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