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
“I just played club football and I tried to get my form back. Like, it’s a hard situation to be in, whenever you weren’t getting games consistently for the county yet you were part of the county set-up and not allowed to play in club matches.
“It’s nearly the worst situation to be in because you’re on the fringes but you’re no good to anybody really. It was frustrating because I was going back to the club and I wasn’t playing well. I’m sure plenty of men have been in the same Catch 22.”
So he moved on and left some tight friends behind, the likes of Darren Hughes and Dick Clerkin and the rest. He had a go and didn’t make it – no regrets, no excuses. His intercounty days were done. As far as he knew.
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London has baked under a nuclear sun all day. In Woolwich Market, the stalls are selling shades at £2 a pair but there’s hardly any business to be done. Instead there’s a semi-permanent police presence, a legacy of the dark day earlier in the summer when the young soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in the street a just a couple of hundred yards away. Mulligan left work with his head down that evening, as 50-odd members of the right-wing English Defence League gathered to crank an already tense atmosphere up to 11.
His second trek of the day involves three different trains that take him diagonally across the city. Woolwich is literally the end of the line on the south east of the map and Ruislip hasn’t very much beyond it in the north west.
Again it’s a matter of hunting time at the start in case he needs to gather it later. He grabs a strap on the DLR to Canning Town just a minute before the door closes.
Football with London was never going to be a marriage that needed a pre-nup. There are no hidden riches, no life of luxury to which you’d be in danger of becoming accustomed. His first match was against Limerick in the 2012 league and they lost by six points.
Then it was Carlow by eight, Fermanagh by 12, Leitrim and Clare by five. Their only win was against Kilkenny, their only close game a draw against Waterford on the last day. Summer came and they lost to Leitrim by a point and Antrim by two and that was that. The year done on the last day of June.
“That’s something that took me a little while to adjust to. No doubt the rest of the lads too. I had been very lucky up to that point in that I’d played with fairly successful teams. We mightn’t have won an awful lot of trophies but we’d won plenty of games.
“When you’re used to winning, it’s very hard to get to terms with defeat after defeat after defeat. It’s not something that comes easy and I knew from talking to the rest of the lads that were there before me that it didn’t sit easy with them either. But when you’re playing for London, it’s just one more hurdle you have to overcome. We knew we would eventually if we kept at it.”
Canning Town, 6.04pm
Down into the city’s lower intestines. Whereas the heat above ground at least has somewhere to go, below stairs the tube system traps it in a miasma of sweat and irritation. Two stops along the Jubilee line, Canary Wharf floods the carriage with office workers as the city’s teatime commute kicks in.
This is the really wearing bit. Early mornings, he can handle. If a pre-dawn alarm clock was going to be any more than a passing annoyance, he’d have picked a different career. But the sweatbox tango involved in criss-crossing the city to get to training each night is a killer. “All you want to do is get to the dressingroom and peel off the jeans,” he says.
It’s the slog of it all. Plenty of intercounty players go a long way to get to training but they’re not doing it like this. They’re not constantly calculating whether they need to hustle to make the connecting train. They’re not stuffed into armpits or wedged into laps. They’re not being careful of how much they drink from their water bottle for fear their bladder won’t make it to the clubhouse.