Paul Mullen’s dreams have always been to play rugby at the highest level possible.
The Galveston resident has been able to do just that as he plays in his first season for the Houston SaberCats in the newly formed Major League Rugby level.
Mullen, who has played rugby ever since he was 13 years old, was added to the SaberCats roster in January.
Mullen resides in Galveston by way of the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, Ireland
“I came from the west coast of Ireland with a small population,” Mullen said. “They don’t really play rugby so much over there. It’s mostly football.”
Mullen began his rugby playing days at the Glenstal Abby School in County Limerick and played there from 2004-2009. After that, his journey took him to the King’s Hospital School in Dublin from 2009-10 where he helped the team to the Leinster Schools Senior League Final against Newbridge College in 2009.
In addition to all of that, Mullen played age grade rugby for Munster Under-18s, 19s and 20s. He also played for the Ireland Under-19 squad as well as the US Under-20 team.
Mullen arrived in Galveston from Ireland in 2011 for his educational studies. He enrolled at Texas A&M at Galveston to pursue an undergraduate degree in marine engineering.
“I came to the U.S. in 2011 to check out Texas A&M at Galveston,” Mullen said. “I had tryouts with the U.S. under-20 team in Alabama. I started school in spring 2011.”
Mullen received his degree and graduated in 2015 before starting his masters in marine resources management.
“I hope to get my masters this May,” Mullen said.
Since arriving in Texas, Mullen has played for HARC and later the Galveston Rugby Club (which celebrated its 50th anniversary just last year).
Mullen has always been able to balance the workload from his rugby life and his school life.
“When I played for the Galveston Rugby Football Club, we practiced on Tuesdays and Thursdays before having a game on Saturdays so I tried my best to avoid taking classes late at night on those days,” Mullen said. “It’s a lot of work, but when a lot of your friends at school are studying, you can make for lost time by playing rugby.”
But so far, the workload hasn’t been too much for him to handle.
“At the moment, I’m only taking one class this semester and it’s on Thursday,” Mullen said. “I’m not a full-time student at the moment. As an international student, I just need one class to meet the international criteria. I train in the morning on Thursdays and then after practice, I head down to Galveston for class before heading back to Houston to train.”
Mullen’s big break with the SaberCats came this year. After finishing his thesis last semester, Mullen got in touch with the team’s head coach Justin Fitzpatrick and everything began to take off.
“Coach Fitzpatrick was talking to me last semester,” Mullen said. “And I told him I would have a lot of free time when my thesis was done and since I wasn’t going to graduate until May, and I only had one class to take (this semester), so he called me up to try out and did a medical and it took off from there.”
On the field, Mullen has always played up front, playing at the prop position.
In rugby, props have to take in pressure from the locks and forwards pushing from behind in a scrum and the opposition pushing against them. Props are often the strongest members of the team with short necks, broad shoulders and powerful legs.
“I’m a prop and that’s always been my position,” Mullen said, who comes in at 6 feet tall and weighs 275 pounds.
Since joining the SaberCats, Mullen has been impressed with the workload and dedication of his other teammates.
“We have practice Mondays and Tuesdays and Thursdays. We’ll work in the gym in the mornings and then we’ll be practicing again at night,” Mullen said. “Some of the players on the team are working full-time jobs. It’s an incredible commitment of what they make.”
But as far as his rugby future is concern, Mullen says everything is still up in the air.
“After I graduate, I would like to get a job in my field in Houston,” Mullen said. “Obviously, I would like to play rugby, but because of my student visa, worst case scenario, if I don’t find a job, I may have to go home.”
While the SaberCats continue through the exhibition portion of their inaugural season (they’ll start MLR play next month) Mullen has been grateful for the opportunity to continue his rugby career.
“It’s the highest level of rugby that I’ve played at,” Mullen said. “I’m delighted to play for the SaberCats. I would like to play at the highest level and the SaberCats is the next step on the ladder.”