“The Club Kings” Molloy and Mullen
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Once the AIB All-Ireland club titles were captured after scintillating displays on the biggest day, Kieran Molloy and Adrian Mullen were then singled out for countrywide acclaim.
The Corofin and Ballyhale Shamrocks stars have just been crowned AIB Club Players of the Year in football and hurling respectively, after shining brightly en route to St Patrick’s Day glory.
The Galway side beat Dr Crokes of Kerry by 2-16 to 0-10 in the big ball decider, while the men from Kilkenny overcame St Thomas of Galway on a scoreline of 2-28 to 2-11.
Molloy was the heartbeat of the Corofin charge all season, and crowned a great final win with a late point against the Kingdom brigade.
Mullen, meanwhile, bagged himself 0-5 from play that afternoon, building on his 0-2 in the semi-final win over Ballygunner, not to mention 2-1 in the Leinster final annihilation of Ballyboden St Enda’s.
“It’s a great honour to have,” says Molloy, who won the award ahead of clubmate Gary Sice and Gaoth Dobhair’s Kevin Cassidy. “You’re representing the whole parish and I wouldn’t have gotten it if it wasn’t for the lads around me.”
“To even get on the team of the year is special but to be club hurler of the year is a great achievement,” adds Mullen. “I’m just very proud and very shocked. Being nominated with Colin (Fennelly) and Pauric (Mahony), who were fantastic all year was great, and then to get picked is even better.”
Wing-forward Mullen has been learning from the best in the parish of Ballyhale. Inside him at centre-forward is arguably the best hurler in the game in TJ Reid, while on the sideline is manager Henry Shefflin — generally regarded as the greatest in the history of the sport.
Reid (2015) and Michael Fennelly (2011) have won Hurler of the Year awards, while Joey Holden most recently captained a Kilkenny team to All-Ireland glory in 2015.
“You wouldn’t be intimidated but you would still be kind of in awe at them sitting next to you or whatever, or maybe talking to you,” says Mullen with a smile. “You wouldn’t know what to say to them.
“When you get on the pitch, everything off the pitch doesn't matter. You try to be the best every day you go out there and develop a relationship with the county lads, and I think we’ve done that right this year.
“We also got the mix between youth and experience right, and that’s obviously down to the older lads because they have brought us on a lot. TJ beside me is always talking to me, Colin inside is always shouting.
“Joey Holden is a great leader and was man of the match against Ballygunner when we really needed him, and people have doubted him a lot but he has been great.
“Mick has obviously been a warrior and Henry on the sideline is giving advice the whole time. Everything he says is probably right, so all of those lads have been great.”
Ballyhale didn’t have it easy during the Kilkenny championship, edging out both Castlecomer and Bennettsbridge, but they then waltzed through the AIB Leinster championship with 16 point wins over both Naomh Eanna and Ballyboden.
Ballygunner provided a stiff test in Thurles, which they came through by just five points, before St Thomas were beaten to the tune of 17 points at Croke Park. Given the talent that has come through the Kilkenny parish over the years, it’s little surprise that hurling is a way of life there.
“Growing up, there’s nothing much else to do in Ballyhale,” says Mullen. “Ballyhale has been hit hard over the years, but we have that pitch and a small bit of a gym. You’re proud to be a Ballyhale man so you go down to the pitch every night and you’re proud to be there.
“People that have gone before you, say the Fennellys and the Shefflins, you just want to try to be some way near that — it’s something you want to strive for.
“Winning the county, then Leinster and then the All-Ireland was unreal.”
Molloy is keen to praise the underage work done in Corofin, and he’s hoping that the next generation can step up whenever some of the more experienced players leave the stage.
For now, the AIB club footballer of the year is happy to bask in the glow of being crowned All-Ireland champions for the second year in a row.
“The celebrations were hectic, the whole parish was out in force,” says Molloy. “When we went for the homecoming, there were so many people there — you were three hours trying to meet just half of them. They had bonfires lit then the day after. The support was great all along.
“It is massively important to savour it because you might never play with these lads again,” the wing-back adds. “Some lads might retire and some might move away or something, so it is important to savour.”
Corofin stand out for their brilliant football, and Molloy delights in the praise lavished upon the club in recent times. When the sport is at times criticised for negative play, they are a team playing an exciting brand that sets them apart. “I don’t even know how to react to it,” says Molloy with a chuckle. “It’s crazy when you see people writing about your team, saying that they like how Corofin play football. It gives you satisfaction when people say it and it’s surreal.
While Molloy’s kick passing, and surging runs are what he is known for - even without those attributes, he’d still stand out on the pitch due to his ponytail. When asked why he choose such a style the wing back gives a typically straight answer.
“I like my hair long and that’s the reason it’s there,” he adds when asked about his flowing locks. “It does make you stand out. Cillian O’Sullivan from Meath as well, he has long hair but it’s just a personal thing more than anything else.”