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“You Don’t Want To See It Spreading As Much As It Has In Europe”

When Irish winger Jake Mulraney left struggling Hearts to move with his young family to MLS and Atlanta United, he could hardly have envisioned what the world would soon become.

Mulraney started and impressed playing on the left in his first four games for Atlanta, two in the league and two in the CONCACAF Cup, winning three and losing one.

For the Dubliner, this was far cry from failing to make the matchday squad at the Scottish Premiership’s basement club.

But life in A-Town, much like may cities across the world, is beginning to show signs of coming to a standstill, and although the coronavirus hasn’t quite swept through America on the scale it has decimated Europe yet, there are signs for Mulraney that the storm is coming.

“It’s not too bad at the moment,” he tells Pundit Arena.

“It hasn’t spread here as much as it has in Europe, I don’t think. It’s mad though because the NBA is off, our league, is off for 30 days. It’s just a bit mad at the moment. It could all change.

“Flights from Europe have been cut off now, Donald Trump announced that the other day. So, it’s all a bit mad but it’s needed, isn’t it? You don’t want to see it spreading as much as it has in Europe.”

On March 12th MLS announced that it, like almost all the major sporting leagues across the world, would be suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Atlanta, who are managed by Frank De Boer, had been scheduled to meet Sporting Kansas City in their next MLS game. But instead their players now face the reality of no football at all over the coming weeks.

“At the moment we aren’t training. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. We have to wait and find out what’s going on with the league.

“We’ve had the weekend off. As far as I know, we aren’t in tomorrow (Monday) so we’re basically just waiting, sitting around waiting. It’s all very up in the air.”

As Mulraney mentioned, US President Donald Trump extended America’s travel ban to include both the UK and Ireland while he also declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.

The 23-year-old has been in contact with loved ones at home, with his mother informing him of the empty shelves and social distancing that have now become the norm in Ireland.

“It’s definitely not like it is in Ireland yet but I think it’ll get to that stage,” he admitted.

“The same thing is happening here as what’s happening at home. My mam said that the shelves and everything are empty in the shops. So, I think it could end up like that. Some of the boys are stocking up just in case it does happen but we’re just waiting around now.”

For Mulraney and footballers around the world, the foreseeable future is uncertain. They can’t train, they can’t play. They can’t do what they love.

The former Ireland Under-21 international hasn’t yet thought about what he will do over the coming weeks should the situation get worse, with the time for recovery initially something to embrace.

He is aware however that plans will have to be made. How will he continue training? How will he keep his fitness up? All challenging yet very real questions.

“I haven’t really thought about anything like that yet to be honest with you. I hope it doesn’t get to that point. I’m hoping it might just be a week or so.

“We’ve had a bit of a heavy month or so, we’ve had games Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday so this long weekend suits a few boys just to recover, but anything past Tuesday or Wednesday I’d say is enough for me personally.

“I got a text off the physio just to see if I needed to get stuff if anything happens. I think the club are just planning and taking precautions in case they do have to do anything like that.”

Although it’s hard to see past the crisis, life in Atlanta and MLS has started off brilliantly for Mulraney both on and off the pitch.

“I love it here to be honest,” he said.

“It’s very different from the UK in every sense of the word. The lifestyle, the style of play, the fans, it’s very chilled out. It’s nowhere near as hostile as the UK. The banter is different, everything is different.”

The midfielder made the switch to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium at the end of January after two seasons at Hearts, with the move proving to be a huge change for himself and his young family.

After two months in MLS, he admits that the talent of some of the players throughout the league has surprised him and that despite its misconceptions, the league is a lot better than many think.

“How good some of the players are (would surprise people). Every club gets DPs (designated players) and every team has some serious, serious football players.

“Our DPs would play in the Premier League no problem. Even in that CONCACAF tournament, I was thinking we had a great chance of winning it. We got beaten 3-0 by Club America. It’s a lot better than people think.

“I see a lot of people taking the piss out of the league, and I’d be thinking to myself ‘you haven’t got a clue.'”

When Mulraney will return to action remains unclear as the world continues to combat the unprecedented threat that the coronavirus has brought.

In time normality will return and the 23-year-old will continue adjusting to his new life in a new league in a new country.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” he laughs, “but I’m loving it in Atlanta so far.”

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Author: Oisin McQueirns

Oisin McQueirns is a digital journalist at Pundit Arena. Massive fan of Leeds United, Ric Flair and Trusting The Process. Contact him here