Tiarnan Mulvenna: March 2008
Tiarnan Mulvenna interviewed by Keith Wallace
18th March 2008
DUNDALK’S BRIGHTEST young talent, he has raised many debates in the past twelve months, as the whole town anxiously anticipates the night he is handed his first league start. When that will arrive, only manager John Gill knows, however, for now, Tiarnàn Mulvenna is just happy to be doing what he does best with the club he loves.
Last season, the 19-year-old made nine eye-catching substitute appearances, and raised the roof on Oriel Park with his first ever goal for the Lilywhites. Still, however, he must remain patient as he awaits his full club debut. With time on his side, however, Mulvenna is confident that that opportunity will one day come, and when it does, he’s determined not to let it pass. “I’m just here to play football,” he says. “When John decides to use me, that’s all I can do – I’m under contract, so it’s up to him. He tells me to play, and that’s all I can do. It is difficult to be patient, but I’ve only turned 19. It’s not like I’m a Wayne Rooney – even though I hate him! – or something like that. I’m only a normal fella trying to play football, and when my time comes, I’m sure I’ll take it with both hands, and that’s when I’ll score goals for Dundalk. I don’t really know when it will happen – unless John just has plans to bring me along for the first while and then to start introducing me into a few games. I don’t really know, but whenever it comes, I’m just going to grab it.”
Height no hindrance
Nicknamed ‘Mr. T’, Tiarnàn couldn’t be much more different to his A-Team namesake, as he stands at just 5ft5 and is the lightest player in the squad. However, the youngster sees his height and weight as no hindrance, and is working hard to become physically stronger. “Don’t worry about that,” he states. “I’ve put on half a stone recently, and I’m still at it now. I’m back in the gym, and John got me a programme from Fulham, which I gave to the JJB, so I’m on that now. That will help me to get bigger and to get physically stronger as well.
“I’m not afraid to go in for a tackle. People don’t think I’m strong now, but I’m strong enough – I’m not a weakling or anything. I go in for 50/50s and high balls, and I’m not scared to do anything that bigger fellas will do. I’ll give anything for any team I play for, so I don’t think that’s a problem. I probably am too brave, I’m probably a loose canon at times – I don’t get yellow cards or anything – but it’s just playing for Dundalk and playing in front of the crowd; they spur you on as well. It’s just when you come on, you just like to do well, and it’s probably my pace as well – people think that I’m just rushing into things, but sometimes I just can’t stop to tell the truth!”
Mulvenna began his career with local side Muirhevnamor and also spent a short spell at Glenmuir. “I started playing with Muirhevnamor when I was about 10,” Tiarnàn explains, “and then stayed there until I was 14. Then our manager left, so I had to go to Glenmuir – unfortunately! Then I went back to Muirhevnamor for the under-18s, when we won it. I played with their senior team as well.”
The striker first hit the Oriel Park stage at the age of 16 when he was introduced into the club’s youth system under Alan Todd. However, it was coaches Tommy Connolly and John Whyte who Tiarnàn credits with his progression to where he is today. “I came here when I was 16,” he says, “when ‘Todser’ was here. Then Tommy and John ended up coming in, and that’s who taught me how to do what I’m doing. I was with the Youths for three years. I was with the 21s as well; I was just with them for one year, and then spent two years with the under-18s and 21s joined in together. That’s where I learned really, with Tommy and John – who else would you want to teach you how to play football?!”
As well as his local experiences, Mulvenna also holds a very special achievement from two years ago, as he earned an international cap when playing for the Republic of Ireland in a win over Hungary. “I think it was when I was 17,” he recalls. “I just got the one cap. I got injured during the first game. I got injured during the warm-up and did a ligament in the back of my knee, so I only played the last ten minutes – that’s all I could do with my knee. We played against Hungary and we won both games, so I have a one-hundred percent record!”
Throughout his teenage years, Mulvenna has been hyped as a star of the future, and it was his impressive performances with the club’s underage teams which led to his promotion to the senior squad in 2006. Not until the end of that season did he make it into the sixteen-man match squad, while it was last season before he made his senior debut. Tiarnàn explains: “I was just playing with the reserves and was scoring with them and the youth team, and then Tommy Connolly probably told John (Gill). I just started training with the seniors then – that was it really. I had been training with them all year, but it was the Waterford game then at the end of that season in the playoffs that I got onto the bench for the first time.”
That was an added bonus for the youngster, who admits that he didn’t expect to get that far so soon. “I was training with them,” he says, “but I never thought I’d get up that far. I was probably expecting it a year later, even though Speedy (Colin Finan), Reggie (Ciaran Hughes) and Grimesy (Shane Grimes) got up earlier. They were always good when they were young – I’m not saying I’m old or anything! – they were just better than me, so it took a wee while for me to get to be as good as I think I am!”
Now in his third season with the seniors, Mulvenna has been with John Gill and Gerry Scully since the pair arrived at Oriel, and they’re a management team which the local star couldn’t respect more. “They’re nice men,” Tiarnàn says. “You couldn’t ask for more. They won’t lie to you, and that’s all you ask for off a manager – the truth. If you can’t accept the truth then, you shouldn’t be playing football.
“Gerry with the fitness, I’ve probably never been as fit in my life. Him and John have kept us very sharp, and they just teach you so much. They pick up wee things I wouldn’t even think about. Trevor Vaughan and Philly Hughes – when he was here – have taught me a lot as well; they’d teach you as much as you’d need to know as a striker. Trevor is probably the best finisher I’ve ever seen. The four of them have probably been the biggest influences on me since I came into the first-team and in my career, along with Tommy and John Whyte.”
Dream come through
On his seventh appearance for the club came Mulvenna’s most memorable and proudest career moment to date, as he scored his very first club goal in the 4-0 home rout of Kilkenny City on 20 September. “I had played a few games before it and had a few chances,” the teenager recalls, “and that night, I was only on the pitch – it was my first touch. My dad said to me that he fancied me to score that night and it ended up that I did. He hadn’t money on me, but Grimesy scored the last goal anyway, so he never got any money! It was massive, and is the proudest thing I’ve ever done, scoring for this club. I played with Ireland, but playing in front of all my mates who were in the stand and in the Shed, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had.” However, despite that, Tiarnàn admits that he never expected to start following that instant impact. “No, I never,” he says. “Philly, even though he wasn’t scoring, he’s a quality player. Trevor was in-form and Robbie Doyle was scoring as well, so I wasn’t expecting to get in. Everybody was saying it, but there was no point letting that get into my head, because I wasn’t expecting it.”
That win over the Cats signalled a possible turnaround in Dundalk’s form, however, that was something which never transpired. Mulvenna, however, is clueless as to where it all went wrong in mid-season. “I don’t really actually know,” he says, “because I’ve only been here a short time, so I wouldn’t know as much as the boys would about what you’d do in a full season. It was my first full year here. We were probably fit enough, but something just went wrong. It wasn’t that we got too cocky and it wasn’t that we expected to win every game. Something just went wrong, the clique was gone. We weren’t scoring, and it was just a few things really. There was nothing going-on on the inside either; everybody got on well with each other, we went out with each other at the end of the year and everything was spot-on.”
That pleasant mood has continued through to this year with Dundalk getting off to another positive start, as they enter tonight’s match sitting on top of the table after three games. And, Tiarnàn, like his manager, feels that this year’s side is a better one than last season. “The mood’s very good,” he admits. “Like last year, we all get on with each other and the atmosphere is spot-on, but it seems to be a better team this season, and I think we’re more confident in each other as well. The result against Shels in the first game, where we had nine men near the end and they still never really troubled us, was very good, so I think we have a better squad.”
That panel, Mulvenna hopes, is good enough to help him achieve one of his future aims by next November. However, regardless of whether or not promotion is won this season, Tiarnàn has his eye on something else. “The hopes for the future are,” he ponders, “to start for Dundalk, and to beat Philly Hughes’ record. When he was here, I always slagged him that I’d beat his record, so that’s one aim. Another one is to bring Dundalk back to the Premier Division, and I’d also like to turn professional one day, because my dream is to be a professional footballer. But for now, I’m here with Dundalk for the long haul; don’t worry about that.”