The 28-year-old – who has won 18 caps since making a 2018 Test debut – is currently stranded at his family home on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands, after he came back from San Diego Legion following the cancellation of the 2020 Major League Rugby season in March.
Mullen expected to be working in the family business, Aran Bike Hire, for only two months. However, pandemic travel restrictions between Ireland and the United States have extended his stay, leaving him training in isolation and so far unable to get back across the Atlantic ahead of the 2021 season.
“I suppose right now I’m trying to get back into the States,” he said in The Islander, the documentary charting his sudden rise from rugby obscurity to starting against his native Ireland at Aviva Stadium in November 2018 before going to gain World Cup selection.
“I came home for two months to help out and now I am stuck here, basically until whenever (Donald) Trump lets me back in.”
Mullen represented Munster and Ireland at age-grade levels while growing up, regularly taking the 40-minute ferry to the mainland in Galway and then bussing it to Limerick 65 miles away for training. However, when his parents wanted him to put education before rugby, they enrolled him to study marine engineering in Texas, far away from the hubbub of the vibrant rugby scene in Ireland.
After graduating in America many years later, Mullen felt he had unfinished business in rugby and he quickly went from playing at a lower level with Galveston to starring for Houston in the MLR and then on to selection for the USA Eagles.
“It just happened so fast. You’re going from playing division three with Galveston and a few weeks later you’re playing for the Houston SaberCats and a couple of months later you’re playing for the USA. Mad, it happened to me very fast.”
Filmed in late July on Inis Mór, The Islander follows Mullen as he balances work with training in his rough-and-ready back garden gym, trying to keep himself fit for when he can eventually return to playing rugby in America, a country very different from island life off the west coast of Ireland.
“The toughest thing about living on the island is coming and going but also getting stuff out here, bringing 100kgs of weight on the ferry, it’s a pain in the ass,” he explained. “Nothing comes easy out here. You definitely have to work for it.
“The island is nine miles long and three miles wide. To me it’s normal, I wouldn’t know any different. Population about 800 people so you know everybody, everybody knows you which can be good and bad… from living in the States and stuff, growing up here as a kid it was fantastic as you had so much freedom. As a kid, you just hopped on your bike and cycled around the place.”
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