Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

McMullan out to stand tall and engineer yet another shut-out

All-Ireland club final

By Declan Bogue

Antoin McMullan runs his gaze over the Slaughtneil hall and takes his mind's eye back to the days of the teenage discos that put the club on the map.

"That was Dungiven corner back there," he said, pointing out the entrance. "Bellaghy were up here, at the top right."

Slaughtneil, he insists, always stayed up on the balcony.

Looking down on the rest of Derry? It wouldn't really be the Slaughtneil way, but it can still be a decent metaphor as they prepare to take on Dr Crokes in today's All-Ireland final.

If you are digging around for the secret to their success, you can find it with McMullan's attitude to football and work.

Slaughtneil is still white van country, and the modern-day method is for men to catch a flight on a Monday morning and arrive back on Friday night.

As an engineer, McMullan might be expected to follow that model. But he reveals that when he went for his job interview with McLaughlin and Harvey he insisted that football had to be a priority.

So he works in Belfast for most of the week, catches an early flight on Wednesday morning to Luton Airport where the company is working, and arrives back on a Thursday night, ready to do it all again the next week.

Everybody is satisfied.

"I graduated recently and had a few interviews," the 26-year-old stated.

"Some of them had a stipulation that they required you to be away from Monday to Friday. I'm not just saying it, but it's not that important that I would give up my football for it.

"It's a big sacrifice, they say. I don't actually see it as a sacrifice. A lot of people here wouldn't.

"Football is the priority around here. So are hurling and camogie.

"It's the only thing that gives you real happiness. Work is kind of second."

The nature of goalkeeping has changed utterly. When McMullan began around 10 years ago, kickouts were merely about landing the ball down on the head of Patsy Bradley.

But one thing remains the same - keep the ball out of the net.

Today, he will be up against possibly the coolest finisher of all time in Colm Cooper. And if Cooper, as expected, is in a playmaker role, then the excellent Kieran O'Leary is well capable of breaking Slaughtneil's record of nine clean sheets en route to this Croker decider.

"Nine games and no goals," said McMullan, almost absent-mindedly to himself. "You would think, going into Croke Park to play Dr Crokes who are having a campaign where they are scoring a lot of goals… you can't rule out the chance there will be goals."

Slaughtneil do not employ a sweeper system per se, but Crokes are unlikely to flood forward into their defence, meaning this will be a different challenge.

McMullan added: "We have defended well all year. It is more reflective of how we play as a collective.

"Even from our forwards, the defence, the midfield, it is hard to score against us."

We will see.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph