December 13, 1991
A Donegal Master!
A first choice attacker is Tir Connail's Joyce
by Kevin Carney
The mutual respect and admiration shared by Joyce McMullen and Brian McEniff for each other is well known, not only in their native Donegal but Ulster as well. Both are members of each other's fan clubs, their relationship is symbiotic, in a football sense. It is surprising therefore that if and when the time comes for the donegal supremo to hang up his notebook, Joyce expresses the hope that the county aren't left saddled with a McEniff mark.
"There's an abundance of managers in the county who would like a shot at taking over the senior team, but I don't think it helps matters for the players when there's competition ... I would like to see an outsider take over when the time comes. A manager from Donegal can't please everyone. He just can't win!" explained the Four Masters stalwart.
Reports of internecine disputes in Tir Connail land have filtered through the province in recent years, most of which is discounted by Joyce as pre media hype but he, nevertheless, sticks by his guns in putting forward the theory that a non-Donegal native over the county team would unite the county and would have an easier job of football, on and off the field of play, the Donegal town native was one of the few pundits to tip Down last year to go the full way.
Are Down still a class apart in Ulster? "It's true, Donegal have a lot of ground to make up on Down. They have tremendous self-belief at the present time and that's the keyhole for any team." Injured and ruled out of the first round championship match versus Cavan, the team manager's belief in 28 year old McMullen ensured a half forward berth for the New Ireland Insurance representative for the duals with Fermanagh, and of course, John Kelly and Down. A speedy, potentially explosive match-winner, McMullen is currently enjoying a by now customary winter break. Customary, that is, for a host of inter county players but a novel and welcome chance to recharge the McMullen batteries.
A debutant in the green and gold jersey at 18 years of age, he is now regarded as a veteran of the Donegal squad. At 5'9" and 11 and a half stone, Joyce McMullen crackles all through a match. More often than not, if he explodes into top form, Donegal are hard to beat. A crowd pleaser and a favourite with fans and manager alike, his ability to carry the ball at speed has left players like Jim Reilly of Cavan and Joe Kernan fans of his too.
An Ulster senior medal winner in 1983 and 1989, the former Ulster Railway Cup winner fits into the Donegal mould perfectly. Technically very good and particularly inventive, he along with Anthony Molloy, Donal Reid, Martin McHugh and 'erst while clubmate Paul Carr, for, the link between the county side of 1983 vintage and the one aiming to succeed Down in 1992.
An attacker cum midfielder with Four Masters, his summing up of Donegal's final defeat against Down is brutally honest. "The ball may not have been kind to us on the day but the success we enjoyed in 1990 had definitely taken some of the edge off our game. That bit of success backfired on us instead of standing to us when the heat was turned on," the one-time schools team mate of selector Michael Laverty admitted.
Playing in front of Donegal's notoriously critical fans for the past eight years takes some doing but the 1982 All-Ireland under 21 medalist is a hardy lad. Parents Jim and Bridie saw to that. The youngest of eight, Joyce has appeared to cope better than most with the rigorous demands of a success-craving army of supporters. Donegal fans expect their team to win all the time. They expect bachelor Joyce to do the business on the parks around the county all of the time. A dedicated and easy-to-train player, Joyce is the first to admit that he will have his work cut out competing with nine or so others for six attacking positions 'cum February without carrying the whole weight of an expectant Donegal support on his shoulders.
Forced out of almost all of the 1987/88 season because of disc trouble in his back, "It's now thankfully cleared up," Joyce was unable to prevent his beloved Four Masters from being relegated this year, an obvious source of disappointment to him. A member of his club's under 21 championship winning side in 1979 and later two senior championship title winning performances in 1983 and 1984, Joyce argues that the scourge of emigration has been particularly responsible for his club's latter-day fall from grade. "We have lost a lot of players in recent times which hasn't helped at all. Men like Seamus Meehan, PJ Dooley and Enda Mullen have either emigrated or migrated and have been badly missed by the club," Joyce explained.
The 1984 Ulster Club Championship defeat to Scotstown by a mere four points is cited by the club stalwart as a turning point in Four Masters' recent history. "That was when things started to fall apart. It seemed as if we were content to just win the county championship, that anything after than was great if it came along," the ace attacker acknowledged. Writing off the club as a force consigned to the pat would be a premature act, one would suggest equivalent to suggesting that the Donegal town man has seen his best days.
A lean and philosophical exponent of the game, the post-Christmas period will mark the beginning of a long haul to prime fitness for Joyce. Training on wet, damp and dark evenings has been a part of his life since his late teens. Playing whole-hearted football, his trademark during that period. 1983 brought its cruel disappointing days to accompany the Ulster medal. Whole-hearted football that year wasn't enough against Galway in the All-Ireland semi final. "I froze that day. I usually like the big occasions but that's a game I'd like to forget. Losing by just a point was a killer," he remembered.
Seventy minutes and you take your chances with the Gods above. That's McMullen's motto. That's the way it'll be when Donegal step up to the starting line next summer. No one accepts this maxim quicker than the interviewee. "It's all on the day. If we were to replay the Down final last year, who can tell who would win the game. I don't believe in any hype that goes with the big matches. I think that the less said approaching a match, the better."
Joyce must fancy Donegal's chances of regaining their Ulster senior crown. The relative success of a young Killybegs side in the Ulster club championship has spurred renewed hope for glory in the warmer climate ahead. Determined to fight for his customary left-half forward berth for the resumed league fare, the prove marksman from the demoted Masters admits that the present county panel is still very promising and has plenty of potential.
"With players like Barry McGowan, John Cunningham and Manus Boyle showing the way forward, we can only be optimistic that the squad can stay together and go from strength to strength. I for one though, don't believe in this supposed hoodoo over defending Ulster champions. We hope we'll have a hard job to unseat Down, if we do happen to meet," Joyce reminded all.
As one of the more senior and a long serving member of the county set-up, Joyce has a refreshing, almost boyish perspective outlook on the game. A game he has come to realise, can be taken to seriously. One which needs to be placed in the context of everyday life, work and relationships. A steady hand at the keel ...
A type of player who knows his own game inside out and can be his own worst critic, Joyce McMullen will put the hurly-burly of inter county football behind him when his form spells it out. An honest footballer is a treasured player, as one modern day supremo remarked recently. Playing football at the top level is Joyce McMullen's short term commitment, long term decisions will be put on hold for the moment. This body will tell him when the time comes around that the enjoyment factor has disappeared. Luckily for Donegal fans, that spectre is many seasons ahead, it seems.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
13th December 1991
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