by Damian Lawlor
Exciting Monaghan youngster Aaron Mulligan has long since been tipped for great things at the highest level of intercounty football, but his school manager Kieron Byrne reckons his graduation will come sooner than later.
Mulligan scored a scintillating 0-9 to deliver a first Masita GAA All-Ireland schools title for Ballybay at the weekend, after some compelling extra time drama, continuing his blistering underage form.
Last year, Mulligan not only collected the Player of the Match award following his team's win over Derry in the Ulster final (1-9 to 0-9) and then shot the lights out with a haul of 1-3 when Monaghan overcame Kildare (2-11 to 0-8) in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Byrne says his outstanding temperament and talent will quickly pay dividends and hopefully ensure a bright future at the highest level.
“He’s just an outstanding young man,” his manager says.
“Like, we were in the most pressurised situations at the weekend and he just stood there and hit three 45s off the ground and over the bar.
“He’s been doing it for us all year long, hitting points and scoring great goals.
“Aaron has also been doing it for his club too for a while – producing the goods week in, week out.
“It won’t be long before you see him line out with Conor McManus on the Monaghan senior football team.
“And what a duo they will make.”
Mulligan’s Ballybay Community College side took proud custody of the Edmund Rice Cup after a historic victory over Boherbue Comprehensive College in a thrilling All Ireland Colleges D SFC final at the Kildare GAA Centre of Excellence, Newbridge last Saturday.
After an epic contest, the Ulster champions finally came good in extra time with super sub Julius Sniouksta netting a late match winning goal.
That dramatic win made up for heartbreak of the past – including a painful Ulster final defeat at the hands of St Aidan’s Cootehill 15 years ago – and another one last season.
But Byrne says the rare win was ground out because of the huge team ethic they have built up.
“I know Aaron scored a heap of points, but I didn’t even realise how much until after the game because, to a man, the players we fielded were just fantastic.
“From the corner-backs to the lads up front they all worked so well and put in such a shift.
“This is a rare All-Ireland win. This year’s Ulster title was our first at adult level and to win the All-Ireland is just huge now.”
Byrne, a Donegal native, says that he is impressed with the amount of work going on at underage football in Monaghan.
And he feels that communication is the key to making sure players’ workload is balanced.
“From my point of view as school team manager, we linked in really well with the Monaghan under 17 management and we ensured that all the players were looked after.
“The communication lines were always open.
“Another thing is the size of the county is quite small, but it means that every players gets access to games and teams and they can improve in that regard.
“That’s a huge help too.”
With eight of last year’s panel in tow, and four players from last year’s Monaghan minor panel, Byrne always felt confident his side could go on a winning run.
Seven games later they are across the finishing line.
The Ballybay manager said he never had any concerns that some of his players had experienced bitter defeat on the big day – both at intercounty minor and schools level last year.
“No, the mentality of our lads is very strong,” he said.
“And we drew heavily from the successful under 16 side that the school had last year – we had up to 11 of that panel in tow and that was a huge help.
“Hopefully we can have more great days like this in the future – these boys have certainly foraged a path for other lads to follow.”Tweet