By Niall Gartland
TWO former Derry players have paid tribute to one of the game’s legendary figures, Brian Mullins, who passed away last Friday at the age of 68.
Mullins had a successful playing career with Dublin, winning four All-Ireland medals and playing in nine finals, but he also made his mark as manager of Derry for a period during the nineties.
He led the side to a National League title in 1996 and an Ulster final two years later, and we spoke to two former Derry players – Joe Cassidy and Geoffrey McGonagle – about their memories of playing under the imposing former Dublin midfielder.
Cassidy said: “It’s a huge shock, he was a larger than life character with a real aura about him. That’s my abiding memory of him at Derry, he had this aura because of who he was and what he had achieved, and we all looked up to him.”
Cassidy linked up with the panel in 1997 as a talented young footballer who won an All-Ireland U-21 title early that year, and he said Mullins always had time for the younger players on the panel.
“Brian was a very warm character, maybe I was a bit fearful of him early on, but he had a lot of time for people, especially the group of young lads who came in at the one time.
“He was a Principal in Carndonagh and like most teachers there was a pastoral element to his management and I’d certainly have learnt a lot from him.
“If you look at the messages across social media, Brian is certainly well thought of in Derry.”
He added: “There’s not too many managers in Derry who have won an Ulster title so he has that one to his name. It’s mad to think it took 24 years to win it again.”
Former Dungiven dual player Geoffrey McGonagle, who set up the winning goal against Donegal in the 1998 Ulster final, was only on the squad a matter of weeks at that stage. He recalls that Mullins was an imposing but altogether decent person.
“I only worked under Brian for a year. I came in a week before the semi-final against Armagh and I came on in the rest of the matches we played. He left a real mark on you, it just did things his way.
“If he lost his temper you’d have thought it was a bear roaring at you, but me and him got on 100 per cent. He called a spade a spade and that’s what I liked about him.
“He managed the way he played, he was a big fella and he was forceful but he was a good man and I’ve very fond memories of him.”