Some said his team didn’t have the bottle for a day like this. That they didn’t have the balls for the big occasion. That they didn’t have the fist for the fight.
But by full-time on Sunday at Semple Stadium, with the Billy O’Neill trophy nestling in his arms, John Mullane said there was no doubting what stuff De La Salle were made of.
The club captain delivered another barnstorming display, chipping in with 1-2 during an extraordinary second half when De La Salle stormed back from a seven-point deficit against a shell-shocked Adare outfit.
For Mullane, this triumph represented a high-water mark in his hurling career. “This is the best day of my life,” he said, just minutes after hoisting the cup.
“Winning with your county is special, but winning with your friends and the boys you went to school with is extra special.”
At half-time on Sunday, with his team scoreless and trailing by five points, it looked a hell of a long way back for De La Salle, a point Mullane frankly admitted to.
“It was a pretty dismal display in the first half, a display in which showed we were a bit nervous,” he said, his back being patted by a mass of hands while so doing. “But we showed how good a team we were in the second half and we came back fighting.
“We’ve been showing our battling qualities all year. People have been writing us off all year and people were probably writing us off at half-time but we showed how good a team we were by going on and winning it.”
Added Mullane: “But if you’d have said to me at half-time that we’d have gone on to win it; I’d probably have laughed at you, to be honest. And if you’d have told me in January that we’d be Munster champions or even county champions for that matter, I’d probably have done the same thing.
“But that’s what makes the GAA so special, that the underdog can go on and achieve the way we have today.”
Despite an underwhelming first half display, manager Owen Dunphy didn’t unleash the hairdryer at half-time, Mullane revealed.
“It wasn’t a case of us all roaring and shouting at each other,” he continued. [Owen] stayed calm and said, look, it’ll come for us, keep your heads held high. Any other team would have thrown in the towel – we didn’t.”
Mullane’s 41st minute goal, which narrowed the margin to three points, was undoubtedly the game’s key moment.
“It came at a crucial stage,” he said. “I think we were six points down at that stage. And when the goal went in, we started to get a bit of belief that we could finally go on and win this and that ended up being the case.”
Hungry for more
Were there any thoughts of tapping over a point after Adare goalkeeper Timmy Houlihan failed to deal with Lee Hayes’s deep delivery? “No, no. Naturally I realised there was nobody around me and I just went for it.” And in it went.
The De La Salle attacker, who would surely top any fan poll were that the means of selecting the 2009 county captain, saluted the fans that have stuck with De La Salle throughout the year. That his club were also representing Waterford wasn’t lost on him.
“You can see that in the support that’s here today. There are people up here from West Waterford, which is great. I’ve been getting texts and calls from people up the west and around the county and that’s what makes Waterford hurling so special, the way they come out and support their own.”
Saluting the physical preparation of the team which Micko Casey has overseen this year, Mullane’s ever-ravenous appetite for success ran strongly through his post-match comments. But there’s still some business that needs tending to.
“We don’t want the bus to stop here. We want to go on and represent our club and Waterford on Patrick’s Day because it’s the best part of 30 years since a Waterford team has been in the final, so hopefully we can achieve that.
“All I want to do now is go on and beat Cushendall and get to that Saint Patrick’s Day final…It’s just a dream ending to the year.”
And with that, John Mullane proudly marched down the steps of the O’Riain Stand, cup in tow, and dreams intact.
“And now it’s back to the Granville for part two,” he had announced during his victory speech. A couple of good nights have already been enjoyed by players, management and supporters, just as they should be.
And while De La Salle will rightly toast their success over the next month, the focus will soon shift to Cushendall, the only team standing between Mullane’s men and Croke Park on Saint Patrick’s Day.
And what a player this team is led by, a player who merits every compliment currently being heaped upon him. Let’s hope the good times continue to roll for Mullane and co.