Former Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall now works for Leinster GAA. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

'I’m not just talking about your Kildares or Meaths. Other counties are knocking on the door as well'


GOOGLE 'Alan Mulhall Offaly GAA' and you might be surprised what your search engine throws up.

It won’t be a spectacular save, cheered on by thousands – but rather an outrageous goal, witnessed by very few.

The wonders of camera phone technology and social media would change all that.

"I don’t mind that!" the former Offaly goalkeeper chuckles, when it’s suggested he will always be associated with a goal he scored, not one he saved.

Mulhall was a poacher turned 'keeper who, when needs must, became a poacher once more in thunderbolt fashion.

It came in August 2017 during the Offaly senior ‘B’ football championship. Walsh Island were trailing a relegation-threatened St Brigid’s of Croghan by three points with time virtually up in Daingean.

Cue a 13-metre free-in. Cue a goal-line wall that Donald Trump could only envy, comprising seemingly the entire St Brigid’s team.

Picture the scene of apparent futility. You simply have to go for it, while accepting the pointlessness of it all. As Mulhall, playing full-forward on the day, recalls: "Even the referee kind of laughed at me when I asked him what was left? He said, 'This is it.'"

At this stage we recommend our old friend, Google, to see the roofed howitzer with your own two eyes … and the disbelieving reaction of the Walsh Island faithful just as the shrill blast of the final whistle punctures the air.

Mulhall’s torpedo of a right boot had saved the day. "We got the draw," he recounts, "and it put the team we were playing into the relegation play-off and us through to the quarter-final."

Happy days.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fast-forward almost three years and life has moved on. Mulhall retired from inter-county football at the end of 2018 after a long, meandering career. He was first promoted to the senior panel in ’01, as an outfield player; featured on-and-off up until ’08 when he made his SFC debut as a forward sub; and then became a full-time ‘keeper for the Faithful from ’09 onwards.

The 37-year-old Leinster Council employee still eats, sleeps and breathes football – and hurling. He is provincial games development manager for north Leinster, covering Louth, Meath, Kildare, Longford and Westmeath.

James Devane of Kildare has the same brief for south Leinster, covering Offaly, Laois, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wicklow and Wexford; Dublin is treated as a standalone entity.

Mulhall’s job has been rendered far more challenging during this unprecedented lockdown, but he’s hugely encouraged by how the staff on his watch – some 57 games development administrators (GDAs) and games promotion officers (GPOs) – as well as all the clubs they work with have embraced online learning.

Moreover, he is convinced that players won’t be lost to the GAA once the current crisis has abated.

"I wouldn’t be fearful of that at all," he insists. "I feel that the GAA is a strong enough community-based organisation so that, when the GAA starts back up, it’s going to be nearly the same as before. Everyone is going to just get back up and start playing.

"Okay, there will be the fears around Covid-19. But I can’t see us losing too many players to other sports, if they get back ahead of us.

"I think it’s such a community-based (organisation), particularly around rural Ireland where everyone knows who’s eligible, who’s underage and who’s able to play.

"They’re able to go to the door and just give them a shout … I don’t think that will be an issue for us."

Resolving the paradox of social distancing in a contact sport is "the biggest challenge," he accepts. "We could devise training sessions and different things, but what we’re all about is our games. No one wants to be training for no reason or doing different activities without the opportunity to get to play a proper game.

"We’re going to have to learn to live with this," he continues, "and we don’t know what ‘normal’ is going to be by the 20th of July. So, people will get used to it and get used to different elements. I just think playing the matches is the only difficulty really."

While stressing that he is "no medical expert", Mulhall can foresee an inter-county championship happening towards the end of 2020. "If it’s any way possible at all, the GAA are going to put on a championship, both at club and county," he declares.

Question is, even if the Leinster SFC returns, will it be a championship in the true, competitive sense?

Mulhall’s own county career coincided with an era of near-total Dublin domination of the eastern province.

He doesn’t disguise the obvious fact that Dublin look "very, very strong" but he’s adamant, from his own work at the coalface, that "it’s only a matter of time before some of these counties make a breakthrough.

"And I’m not just talking about your Kildares or Meaths who have really strong tradition and a large population. It’s the other counties that are knocking on the door as well. They’re getting closer to getting to minor finals and U20 finals."

There speaks a man who has beaten the odds – and an impregnable wall.