Planning fixtures for Kildare GAA is akin to doing a 100-piece jig-saw Mick Mullen, Chairman of the Kildare CCC told the Leinster Leader when we spoke of that particular role recently.
The only problem, the Celbridge based official said, that following the various lockdowns, that 100-piece jig-saw turned into a 1,000-piece jig-saw such was the toing and froing, the chopping and changing, getting the green light, only to see it turn to red, before getting the go-ahead and finally getting the re-vamped club championships done and dusted, albeit with the exception of the senior hurling final.
And while extremely happy that the majority of the championships were con-
cluded the fact that the hurling final failed to get over the line was a big, big disappointment for Mr Mullen.
“One more week, just one more week, would have gotten us over the line with the hurling final” adding “it was disappointing the chiefs in Croke park allowed Dublin to play under Level 3 but did not allow other counties to play for just one more week; that was disappointing; seems to be a rule that is there for The Dubs and ...”
Originally from Gormans-
ton, Co Meath, Mick's home club was St. Pat's Stamullen, before he moved to Celbridge some 30 years ago.
Initially working for Thermo King, who manufactured fridges for trucks before moving into the catering equipment manu-
facturing business and, as he says himself, through recessions and redun-
dancies, is now a civil servant working for the National Services Offices “looking after civil servants pensions.”
Despite a bit of a Dub accent, Mick is very quick, and indeed very proud, to point out that his club has five All-Ireland medals in total won by players from St Patrick's Stamullen.
Most would be very familiar to Kildare GAA fans, one in particular though stands out, that great defender Pat ‘Red’ Collier. Can still remember that day in Croke Park when Kildare were playing Meath and the great Pa Connolly gave ‘The Red’ the mother and father of a shoulder, just under the Cusack Stand.
Remember ‘The Red’ had a reputation of being a tough, hard nut; an attacking half back that loved to get forward but to see Pa put him on his arse that day brought one tremendous roar from The Lilywhite supporters.
The other four players from Mick's native club to have All-Ireland medals are Gussy Leonard, Mickey McQuillan, Cormac Murphy and Cormac Sullivan.
After moving to Celbridge, Mick soon got involved with the local club, Celbridge, initially looking after the Under 8 squad.
“We didn't win a lot at that level but went on to win an U21 ‘A’ title which was no mean achievement.”
Mick was the underage co-ordinator with Celbridge while he was also the organiser for the Cúl Camps and also a member of the club executive, a role he still fulfills today.
He progressed, getting involved with Bord na nÓg in Kildare, initially under the chairmanship of Eddie Manning. However when the Sarsfields man stepped away it was Mick who was asked to step forward to become the county Féile chairman and with the national Féile due to be held in Kildare in 2009 it was certainly a hectic time for the Celbridge man.
“Hectic it certainly was” said Mick, “the organisation of that event was incredible but there were great people involved from Kildare, people from every corner of the county; a lot of people I had never met prior to that but got to know very well and indeed people I became very good friends with ever since.”
That Féile of 2009 was also the first time that garda vetting was rolled out and that was another aspect that took a huge amount of time and effort.
“Ella Doran was our Children's Officer and she was brilliant I have to say, brilliant.”
A big undertaking the Féile?
“Massive” confirms Mick adding “the vetting was vital at that time with young boys and girls coming from all over the country, they had to be assured they were all staying in save environments, but even apart from that aspect of the organisation, there was the matter of fixtures; pitches; referees, really it was an 18-month project and with people coming not just from around the country they came from New York, San Francisco, Brittany in France; Scotland; North and South London, along with Warwickshire, Lancashire, and they all had to be housed and accommodated but thankfully it all went well, mainly due to the many people who got on board for the event.”
After Féile Mick con-
centrated on minor teams back in Celbridge and was heavily involved both as manager and selector for some six or seven years before getting back into county board activities.
On his own admission it was probably his experience in Féile that led to him getting involved with the CCC and in particular looking after fixtures in the county.
“When Mick Gorman became Vice-Chairman of the Co. Board he was looking for someone to look after fixtures and then chairman, Ger Donnelly, told Mick ‘I have someone that can do that’ so that is how I initially became involved.”
Another tough job?
Yes, it can be, came the quick reply, at different times of the year but it all about planning in advance.
“We now produce a fixture calendar, around the end of December and tweak it somewhat over Christmas and have it ready for the New Year.
“There is a lot to take in, hence where the 100-piece jig-saw” he laughs.
Remember you have to take in the various county programmes, hurling and football, but while very time consuming we have got a handle on it and in fairness club players in Kildare now have a fair idea when they will be in action in both league and championship. In fact I would suggest that from a club players’ point of view it is one of the best programmes that can be found anywhere.”
No doubt 2020 has been something like never experienced before?
“No amount of planning could get you ready for that. I'm not sure how many times we had to re-do the fixtures this year but eventually when we got the final go-ahead, everyone on the management committee was involved in getting games completed, successfully, carefully and most important of all, safely.”
Even before the corona-
virus hit us one thing that always frustrated Mick Mullen when it came to fixtures was games being postponed and/ or called off, for various reasons but especially due to pitches being unplayable.
“We will always have bad weather, that is a given, but we do not have to always have bad pitches.
“Look at St Conleth's Park and Hawkfield for instance, perfect and always playable but there are other grounds around, take for instance earlier this year the U20s played in Portlaoise; terrible conditions; at one stage it looked like the game was going to be played on the back pitch; we need to get our pitches in order and we need more floodlit pitches as well he adds.
At last Croke Park is taking a serious look at fixtures with club players finally getting a proper airing.
“It looks like we will get a split season in 2021, which is to be welcomed, who goes first, club or county, not sure but it has to be sorted.
“Usually at this time of year our fixture calendar would be almost complete, not so this year but hopefully a decision will be made in a matter of days and we can then got down to plan.”
Mick says, in his opinion, a plan should be made out for 2021 — club and county — and then lessons can be learned at the end of that season and some tweaking can be done before finally settling on a calendar programme for 2022 and going forward from there.”
Would the Celbridge man, who is also a Leinster Council delegate for Kildare be interested in say, one day, become chairman?
“I though one time I would be but when you see the time Mick Gorman and Ger Donnelly and their pre-
decessors have put into that role, I feel unless you have a very flexible job, you would need to be retired, but sure that's all for the future, who knows?
You must remember says Mick, we are all volunteers, adding with a laugh, “but we do get the chance of buying, I stress buying, a ticket for the All-Ireland final.”
So it has been a year we will never forget and while most involved in sport think of players and managers and what they have gone through, and continue to go through, with this virus, few think of board officials and those with the specific task of getting games completed under such dire circumstances.
Still, as Mick Mullen says “the main thing this year, and while disappointed we did not get the hurling final over the line, at least the man in the red suit did not appear the same day as the county final.”
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