Belfast Telegraph

Mullen marks 250 matches not out

Newry City AFC manager Darren Mullen passes a significant milestone in charge tomorrow

Newry City AFC manager Darren Mullen celebrates 250 games in charge of the club tomorrow.
Newry City AFC manager Darren Mullen celebrates 250 games in charge of the club tomorrow.

By Gareth McCullough

Six and a half seasons at the helm of his hometown club have seen Newry City AFC and manager Darren Mullen enjoy unprecedented success with a remarkable rise from Mid-Ulster Intermediate B up to the Danske Bank Premiership.

While there have been plenty of bumps in the road - including last season's relegation from the top flight - following the club's reformation just a few months after going out of business in October 2012, Mullen, a driving force both on and off the pitch in getting the border side back on their feet, is determined to get back to where he says the club belongs.

Ahead of Saturday's trip to face last season's Irish Cup finalists Ballinamallard United, Mullen, who is the third longest-serving manager in the top two leagues behind Crusaders' Stephen Baxter and Gary Hamilton of Glenavon, spoke of his immense pride at being in the role and named the five pivotal matches out of the 250 in charge that he feels shaped his time at The Showgrounds.  

"If someone had told me 10 or 15 years ago that this would happen, it would have taken me a while to get my head around it," admits Mullen, who is also Northern Ireland scout for English giants Everton.

"I only played youth and reserve football for Newry and didn't have an opportunity to play for the first team. That was always a regret. But to manage the club is, in my eyes, a far greater honour. Not as many people have done it and to do it for this amount of time, I'm not one for looking back on things, but when it comes to a milestone like this, it stops you in your tracks when you start thinking about what we've done. Sometimes that can be forgotten about, not just from my own perspective, but what everybody at the club has done . It's a completely different club now from what it was six years ago."

"I'm always looking forward because we still have a lot of work to do, but it's nice to get to 250 games. Sometimes you think it's gone really quick and at others it feels like it's been a long seven or eight years because it's been constant. It never stops and there's always something to do but, if I didn't love it then I wouldn't do it. The rewards are great though, especially in my case, where I've been lucky enough to manage my hometown team in five divisions right up to the Premiership. That's something that, no matter what happens, nobody can take that away."

City, who many tipped as favourites to go straight back up to the top flight, have had a somewhat inauspicious start to life in the Championship, with just one win and two draws from their opening six games sees them sitting in tenth spot in the table. Mullen is optimistic that results will begin to pick up and that the club can make an instant return to the Premiership.

"There's still an awful lot of work being done off the pitch to make sure that we're set up to do that. We don't want to be a yo-yo club," he says.

"This is a really difficult league we're in and results already have shown that, but I'm confident that when we have everyone fit and available that we'll be more than a match for anyone. I've still two years to run on my existing deal and you can never tell what will happen in football, good, bad or indifferent. But we want to get back to the Premiership. We really enjoyed it last season, even though, ultimately, we weren't successful.

"It's where I want to be as a manager and where the club wants to be."      

Mullen selected five matches out of the 249 so far, that have been pivotal in Newry's success story.

Saturday August 10, 2013

Mid-Ulster Intermediate B

Bourneview YM 0 Newry City AFC 3

This was our first game back. There was a lot of stuff over the previous 12 months off the field that you don't really want to have to do as a manager. We were just delighted to get back on a football pitch.

We got a 3-0 win, courtesy of a Neil Barr hat-trick, and to see the reaction of the fans, who had nothing to cheer for that previous 12 months, was the most important thing. They travelled in their numbers and put out their flags, which was great to see.

There was an initial pressure and an expectation involved, so to get that out of the way was a big one.

Mullen on the sidelines during Newry City AFC's first ever competitive match, a 3-0 win away to Bourneview YM. PIC: Press Eye
Mullen on the sidelines during Newry City AFC's first ever competitive match, a 3-0 win away to Bourneview YM. PIC: Press Eye

Saturday November 28, 2015

Mid-Ulster Intermediate A

Banbridge Rangers 3 Newry City AFC 5

This was our second season in Intermediate A. Our first season in that league wasn't good enough as we finished fifth, so there was added pressure to go up.

We were 3-1 down at half-time away to Banbridge Rangers and I could see we were doubting ourselves at that stage. I wrote on the board in the dressing room, '5-3' and that this was going to be the final score. We ended up going on to win it by that scoreline and, while it could have been any scoreline, it was just about giving the boys that bit of belief.

That was a real turning point and we then went on to win the league. It's a game that really sticks out.

Saturday January 7, 2017

Bluefin Sport Championship

Bangor 3 Newry City AFC 5

We were on a bad run at that stage and this would have been the sixth or seventh game in a row that we hadn't won and we were getting beaten 3-1 at half-time again.

I wasn't allowed in the changing room because I was waiting on an appeal to a suspension. It looked bleak and it it was a tough enough time for myself both on and off the pitch. To come back from that deficit at the break was a big moment for us and, again, it gave us that belief that we could use it as a pivotal moment in our league season, which thankfully we did.

Wednesday May 9, 2018

Danske Bank Premiership Promotion Play-Off Second Leg

Carrick Rangers 1 Newry City AFC 3

 v Newry City 065.jpg
Newry City celebrate promotion to the Premier League. Pic: David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
It's something that you'll never forget.

The emotion of the fans, the rewards of getting to the Premiership and the culmination of everything that had gone on the previous five or six years. That was a huge night.

It's very difficult not to get carried away after being 3-2 up following the first leg. Your mind can run away with you very easily and you have to keep yourself grounded and relay that to the players as well. But when you're 3-1 up away from home with five minutes to go, you know it wasn't going to turn around and there was a sense of relief. You actually start thinking about what has happened in the previous five or six years.

I would put a huge amount of pressure on myself, but it's been worth it. To get that opportunity to manage in the Premiership with your hometown club, when you're 2-0 after 10 minutes in the first leg of the play-off, it looks like a tough task. To come back the way we did from that was a credit to everybody and it was just pure elation when the final whistle went.

Friday November 30, 2018

Danske Bank Premiership

Coleraine 0 Newry City AFC 1

Winning live on television brought us to a wider audience and we received a lot of plaudits for how we won that night.

It was good for the club as people who had maybe seen us from afar and admired our success were able see how we played. The manner of the victory and to do it on television proved that we deserved to be there. Ultimately, we weren't good enough to stay there, but that night, to go and beat the Irish Cup winners and one that had a huge amount of success, especially at home, was a proud moment for myself.

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Tough to take: Darren Mullen leads the applause as Newry bid their fans farewell following relegation from the Danske Bank Premiership last season.

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