Every rugby player dreams of a chance to play at the professional level and, if even some dare hope, get called up to the senior national team in international competition.
Galveston’s Paul Mullen has already accomplished both of those items in this year alone.
So far this year, Mullen has gone from making his rookie debut at the professional level for the Houston Sabercats in the newly formed Major League Rugby to earning a starting spot on the U.S. men’s national team.
“I’ve always aimed to play at the highest level,” Mullen said. “First I get called up to the Sabercats back in January, and now I get to play for the national team, so it’s been surreal. To play on the national team for a country that’s so big, and to represent the U.S. is a great honor.”
Mullen received his invite to the national team by email in late April, reporting to the team’s training camp in Denver on May 27.
Mullen, who plays as a prop, didn’t have to wait long to see playing time for the U.S., making his debut as a starter in Saturday’s 62-13 win over Russia at Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park in Commerce City, Colo.
“It’s fantastic being on the national team,” Mullen said. “All the players are good and come together really well. They’re a great group. I can connect with them already.”
Though despite being originally from Ireland, (hailing from the Aran Islands, Galway Bay off the west coast of the island), Mullen was eligible to play for the U.S. national team since his grandfather was born in the United States.
Though it’s the first time he’s played at the senior level of the national team, it’s not Mullen’s first time playing for the U.S., suiting up for the under-20 team at the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Tbilisi, Georgia back in 2011.
Mullen first started playing rugby at the Glenstal Abby School in County Limerick, where he played from 2004-09. After that, he went to the King’s Hospital School in Dublin from 2009-10 where he led the team to the Leinster Schools Senior League Final against Newbridge College.
Mullen came to Galveston from Ireland in 2011 for educational studies, enrolling at Texas A&M at Galveston where earned his bachelor’s degree in marine engineering technology in 2015. He continued his education on the island, recently earning his master’s degree in marine resources management this past year.
Since arriving in Texas, Mullen has played for HARC and later the Galveston Rugby Club.
After joining the Sabercats back in January, Mullen, who comes in at 6 feet tall and weighs 275 pounds, has since proved his worth to the organization, becoming a viable asset in the front row.
“I am really pleased to see Paul announced to the USA Eagles squad,” said Houston Sabercats head coach Justin Fitzpatrick. “He is a fantastic scrummager and has been playing some super rugby for the Sabercats, and I’m sure he will make a great impression.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the training schedule at the national team camp differs from the one at the club level in the MLR.
“With the national team, we’re all together and everyone is here full time,” Mullen said. “At the Sabercats, you have a few other people who have other jobs to go to during the day, so we’ll get up in the morning and go to the gym before meeting back up in the evening.”
After Saturday’s victory, the team enjoyed a quick recovery before turning their attention to this week’s game.
“We just played on Saturday, now we’re recovering from that before getting back at it, depending on what the practice schedule is for this week,” Mullen said.
Last weekend’s game was the start of a series of three games for the month of June. The U.S. will next face Scotland, a team that is currently ranked sixth in the world rankings, at 8 p.m. Saturday. The game will be played, fittingly, close to home for Mullen, at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium.
“They’re one of the best in the world,” Mullen said. “It’s a huge game. But we’re just doing our training as best as we can to get ready.”
But he’ll gladly take the pitch right next to home.
“It’s great to play in Houston,” Mullen said. “I have a lot of friends in the Houston area and they’ll get to come out and see what rugby is all about.”
While his parents won’t be able to make the game, they’ll still be watching him play back home, six hours ahead of central standard time.
The U.S. will end its series against Canada on June 23 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
But regardless of the score from either game, Mullen is just happy to accomplish another goal of his that goes all the way back to when he was a kid — playing on the national team.
“Of course, I’d like to think that every kid dreams of that opportunity,” Mullen said. “You always strive to do the best that you can and climb the ladder.”