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Brothers in arms aim to silence the big guns

While Martin Mulkerrins suffered the disappointed of losing his O’Neill’s All-Ireland 4-Wall Senior Singles title in the semi-final of the championship against eventual winner Robbie McCarthy, the Moycullen man remains determined not to end the season empty-handed. 

The 26-year-old Galway right-hander will take to the court today for his first O’Neill’s All-Ireland 4-Wall Senior Doubles final against holders Clare with brother Diarmuid, six years his junior, riding shotgun.

Once the singles was over, Martin stated this week, he dusted himself down and threw everything he had into the doubles – and here they are.

“The singles definitely is the big one and takes priority initially,” stated Mulkerrins.

“Diarmuid only turned 20 in February but we played the doubles the last two years and won a round both years before we ran into Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan.

“The first year we played them in Curraghboy, there was never any doubt that the two boys were going to win but we gave them a decent game and I remember people slagging me afterwards that Diarmuid was carrying me!”

While he has picked up a number of titles in the big court and overseas, Mulkerrins is primarily known as a singles exponent.

He won an U16 All-Ireland with Seamus Conneely in 2008 and a couple of colleges titles with Wexford’s Galen Riordan but, other than that, singles play has been his main focus.

“I haven’t actually played that much doubles over the years in the 40x20 court. I would only play a handful of doubles games in a year usually,” he said. 

“I think when the singles was over I definitely thought I didn’t want the season to be over, I had done a lot of training obviously for the singles.

“And there’s something special about playing with your brother, he’s a year older now and getting stronger all the time so we felt that we could possibly give it a good rattle.

“I think we play quite well together. We have had two matches but we know we will have to lift it again in the final.”

Those earlier games should stand to the Tribesmen, who were pushed all the way by both Kilkenny and Cork.

“We played Peter and Patrick Funchion in the quarter-final and that was a crazy game. They had been away playing in the States the week before alright but they are a very seasoned partnership and very strong together.

“They blew us away in the first game, we were 18-3 behind and got a few points in the end to get to six or seven. Then we played quite well in the second game but in the third we went 9-0 down and then from there we went 20-11 up.

“It was an outrageous game, they brought it back to 20-20. I’d say Peter served three times, we got back in and they put us out again – I think I served four times for the match, there were replays, it had nearly everything but we got through it, anything could have happened.”

The semi-final against Michael Hedigan and Daniel Relihan was another marathon.

“We knew the two Cork boys were very strong, I know Michael and Daniel all my years playing handball, ever since I started going to Liscarroll as a 13-year-old. They were very impressive against Dublin and we knew we were going to have to seriously perform.

“At 19-15 down in the first Diarmuid really showed maturity and how much he has come on, he reeled off five points to get us to 20. In the

second game they turned it on and beat us 21-8 and in the third game, they got in a lot and didn’t score and we were thankful to get through it.”

Free from the pressure of singles play to an extent, Mulkerrins is thoroughly enjoying the doubles adventure, with family ties strengthening that sense of fun and the challenge, too.

“It’s very enjoyable, it’s special. There is something different when you look to your right and see your brother there. I think we have a good relationship, we’ve always been close and I do think we play well together.

“We still have a lot to learn and develop but I think we have come on a lot and we have probably put more time into the doubles than ever before.

“It helps you with motivation too when things aren’t going too well because you’ll dig deep when he’s there beside you.”

Champions Diarmaid Nash and Colin Crehan, who toppled the Breffni giants last season, stand in the Galway duo’s way. Mulkerrins knows that nothing will come easy.

“In fairness, they’re a formidable side. They’re the reigning champions and for good reason. In fairness to Diarmaid, he’s been very consistent this year, he’s been in the final of every singles tournament and the championship and Colin is in the top five in singles as well.

“If you look at the draw, there is no other team like that. It would be more common to have one very dominant player but to have two top singles players together, it is a great help.

“And any pair that can beat Paul and Michael in a final and even Tom and Brian, they are the two most experienced doubles teams in my time, shows they can deal with the pressure and they’re playing very well.

“That’s why they’re the holders and it’s going to have to be a huge performance by us to knock them off their perch.”