By Oisin Cusack
“WHEN you see people surviving in mud huts with no electricity and no running water, it makes the pressure of a game of handball look a lot more straightforward” – Martin Mulkerrins.
In November 2017, Mulkerrins travelled to Arda Agricultural College in North West Uganda for a seven-week volunteering trip.
Every day, the Ugandan people he encountered were forced into the disrespecting process of queuing up in large refugee camps with jerry cans for clean water. They were each handed a bag of cassava – similar to a potato – and approximately 400g of maize, scarcely the basis of a balanced diet.
For Mulkerrins, the short trip was life-changing.
“We all see Trócaire ads, but it’s not until you stand there and see itfirst-hand,thatithitshome,”he says.
In 2015, Martin played in his first national senior handball semi-fi- nal, losing out in a tiebreaker. The next two years – 2016 and 2017 – produced déjà vu moments for Martin as he lost in two more tie- breakers. In 2018, a few months after the trip to Uganda, Mulker- rins was finally victorious.
What exactly changed then? “The Ugandan experience changed everything,” he replies.
Moycullen handball star Martin Mulkerrins in Uganda in 2017. PHOTO: MARTIN MULKERRIN
Martin’s handball journey began in 2004 when a new out- door court was built in his own club in Moycullen beside the hurl- ing and football club.
Martin adapted to the game quickly, with his hurling back- ground helping him a great deal. In his second year playing hand- ball, he was already Connacht under 13A champion.
Mulkerrins captured the world under-17 singles and doubles titles. By 19, he was one of the youngest players ever to win the intermediate All-Ireland. As a result, Martin progressed to the senior ranks at just 20-years-old.
His triumph in 2018 has been the high point of a glittering career.
He graduated from UCD in 2015 with an honours degree in ani-
mal and crop production. College ignited an interest in agriculture. Volunteering was something he always wanted to do.
In November 2017, Mulkerrins travelled with his girlfriend Eil- ish to Uganda. The agricultural college is run by the Franciscan brothers and provides courses for local farmers and refugees in vegetable, pig, and poultry pro- duction.
While in Uganda, Mulkerrins helped out with agriculture pro- duction but also introduced the locals to the game of handball.
“We set up two one-wall courts in the college and one in the sec- ondary school. It was nice to bring handball to an area where people have very little,” he says.
Mulkerrins credits this Ugan- dan experience with helping him
mentally prepare for his 2018 vic- tory.
“Training and nutrition wise everything was the same. I think the Ugandan experience was cru- cial. The pressures of a game of handball seem so insignificant when you see the plight of the people over there,” he says.
Mulkerrins views his mental health as being a key element of his game.
“The whole trip put a lot of things into perspective for me. When I used to go into matches, I would put big pressure on myself which would almost weigh me down.
“After the trip though, the pres- sure I had on myself was no longer there. I was just in a completely different zone mentally coming back out of there,” he adds.
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