Success of Mullinahone pair recalls club’s historic roots

Answers on a postcard, please, as to when was the last time Mullinahone had two starters on the Tipperary football team. And yes, you read correctly, we said football, not hurling.

The evening of Tipperary’s Munster quarter-final win over Waterford late last month was a particularly proud one for the CJ Kickhams Mullinahone club. For wearing the number 11 and 12 shirts at Fraher Field were two of their own, young Mikey O’Shea and Martin Kehoe.

Both forwards, not long out of the U20 grade, were making their first championship start for the county’s senior football team, their inclusion in the first 15 drawing the question as to when did two Mullinahone men last line out for the Tipp footballers at championship- time.

On the hurling side, the answer is easily found given Paul Curran and Eoin Kelly’s inter-county careers ran in tandem for almost a decade and a half, right up until their respective retirements within the space of four months of each other in late 2014, early 2015.

Paul’s brother, Niall, was a regular on the Tipp football team throughout the noughties, as was another Mullinahone man, Seán Brett, during the two decades before that.

But as for a Mullinahone duo pulling on the blue and gold at the same time, the locals are unsure.

“It has been a long, long time since we had two lads starting in a championship match for the Tipperary footballers,” says Mullinahone vice-chairman Dick Egan.

“Niall Curran was on the Tipperary football scene for a long, long time. But he was there on his own. Before that, you go back to Seán Brett, he too was a regular, but again he was on his own. “

There is significance in O’Shea and Kehoe stepping onto the inter-county stage together, their rise symbolic of football’s growing prominence at underage level in the club.

Although a hurling-first entity, Mullinahone was once – a long, long time ago – a football stronghold, contesting six county finals between 1912 and 1929, of which they won four.

“They are a senior hurling club and an intermediate football club, but going back 100 years, Mullinahone was a strong football club,” remarks Tipperary manager David Power.

“It is ironic with the Bloody Sunday anniversary not long gone, that now all of a sudden we have two Mullinahone lads playing with Tipperary.”

The shift towards hurling, says Egan, requires no contract tracer. The source is in plain sight.

“Mullinahone was a football club for a long, long time. It all changed in the late 1980s, John Leahy was the man who changed it all. Suddenly, we became hurlers, and football took a backseat. We had success in hurling and sure that then widened the gap and football became the second sport here.

“The club understands that hurling comes first and the football gets fitted in as best it can. I don’t see that changing. That said, we have some very nice footballers coming through and some nice football teams in the club. The fact that the two lads are playing with Tipperary in the championship will have a bearing on them. “

Kehoe and O’Shea are both competent dual players, and it’s worth pointing out that the latter played with the Tipperary U20 hurlers last year. Before that, he was a Tipperary minor hurler, hitting 2-1 off the bench during the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final.

Football, though, is O’Shea’s focus now. He started all bar one of Tipperary’s eight league outings in Division 4 and kicked three points from play on the evening of his championship debut against Waterford. Kehoe started only two of the county’s spring fixtures, but managed to work himself into the first 15 come championship.

“They are two really good young fellas,” Power told this newspaper before the county’s Division 4 League final against Cavan. Mikey O’Shea has been a revelation; he has been brilliant. “

With no representation on Colm Bonnar’s senior hurling panel, Egan says the club are incredibly proud to have two lads starting for the footballers. And should Limerick be overcome later on today, there’ll be two Mullinahone lads in contention to march behind the band on Munster final afternoon in Killarney.

“Mikey was a really promising hurler [underage] and there wasn’t much mention on the football side of things. Out of the blue then, he started to shine at football. Martin is an athlete, he has huge potential, “added Egan.

“To have two Mullinahone lads playing in a Munster final is what we’re hoping for.”

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