Shane Mulligan’s long commute brings a Connacht final at the end of the line
It can be a slog with 18-hour days and treks across the city but London’s centre back is happy to keep going
Shane Mulligan at Woolwich Arsenal station. It can take him almost two hours, taking three different trains, to travel across the city to Ruislip to make training in the evening. Photograph: Joanne O’Brien
Putney Leisure Centre, 5.50am
The 337 bus is late. Why this should be so is a mystery beyond the foggy workings of the mind at such an appalling hour. It can’t be traffic, for there is none. Not at this time of the morning, when the nearest you’ll come to being run over is a game of Chicken with a street-sweeper. Yet here we are and here it isn’t.
Shane Mulligan steps back and cranes his neck to check the digitised board again. It dutifully fills him in – 337 to CLAPHAM JUNCTION: 8 MINS. All very well, but it’s been saying that for quite the amount of mins already. Time isn’t exactly tight just yet. It isn’t overly loose either.
“You always have to give yourself a bit extra,” he says. “You aim for the earlier one so if it’s a few minutes late, you can make the next one and still be okay. It’s when one late one starts feeding into the next late one that you get in trouble.”
In a city of nearly eight and a half million people, getting by depends on getting around. Mulligan is an engineer for a construction company and has to be on site in Woolwich for shortly after seven. It means the alarm elbowing its way into his REM at 5.15 each morning. It means a bus and two trains across south London, platform-stand coffee cooling as he goes.
Or at least it will, just as soon as the 337 arrives.
Clapham Junction, 6.19am
He came to London the long way round. Went to college to do construction studies in 2005 when everybody was building and nobody thought to consider an end. Stayed until 2010 and came out into a capsized world. A whole industry staring at the waterline, most of it from below.
So he had no choice in the matter. If he did, it was a choice of where rather than whether. He had relations in Birmingham so it called him first but within a couple of months he got word of a job at Heathrow. A friend of his played football for Fulham Irish and he had a friend who knew a guy who knew of a job. That’s how it started.
One life bled into the other. He started playing for Fulham Irish mostly to fill out a social circle and when they won their first county title in October 2011, he was a rock at centre-back. By the following spring, Paul Coggins was asking him to do the same for London.
“It was really tough starting off,” he says. “I was working long hours in Heathrow and then I was commuting out to Ruislip and Greenford for games and training a couple of nights a week. Getting home at 11.30, the alarm going at 5.15 in the morning. It was a complete culture shock really. But it was good fun and I met great people. There must have been something right about it to keep me coming back. Either that or thick wit, I don’t know what it was.”
Waterloo East, 6.42am
He’s 28-years-old and if the planets had aligned just a little differently down the years he’d be in Clones tomorrow. When tides were high and Banty McEnaney had Monaghan scaring the life out of Kerry in 2007 and 2008, Mulligan was there in the background. A fringe player, a panel guy.
Not that there was any shame in it. You needed to go some back then to break into a Monaghan defence that housed All Star nominees in Dessie Mone, Gary McQuaid and Damien Freeman. As well as that, injuries nipped at him right when he didn’t need them.
A torn quad kept him out of the league in 2007 and his haste to get back did nothing only slow the recovery. The following year wasn’t much better and his playing opportunities were few.
“In 2009, I was heading back up to college in Jordanstown and I had to ask myself could I really keep doing this. Could I really keep the commitment going without getting any real game time? Have I got the appetite for it? Banty rang me one night and we had a chat about it and we decided I wouldn’t go again in ’09.