De La Salle’s achievement in overcoming Cork kingpins Sarsfields on their home patch last Sunday was stunning by any yardstick. Outside doubters regarded the club as Waterford’s weakest representatives in Munster in several years. However, the first-time county champions showed true grit and grace under pressure in confounding the critics and compounding the shock engulfing the GAA on Leeside.
Though a consummate team player, for Bryan Phelan it was another personal-best performance. After a summer spent largely sidelined as Waterford finally got the chance to sup at hurling’s Holy Grail, but were left with a bitter taste, he has raised his game and is proving an inspiration.
Man-of-the-match in the previous Sunday’s Fraher Field decider, ‘Bull’, 29, was awesome against Sars, with his penultimate point from way inside his own half one of those scores they’ll be talking about in the new De La Salle centre at Gracedieu in decades to come.
Captain John Mullane, the most blatant All Star that never was, has led by example. “I’m 27 and I’m waiting all my life for this. It’s finally happened,” he says, with a maturity that could make him county captain material.
Mullane is always going to be a marked man but his class, allied to his eye for a pass, shone again on Sunday. Kevin Moran, too, has been a powerhouse. Indeed, while it was very much a team performance that beat Bertie Óg Murphy’s men, the manner in which De La Salle’s three county stars have bounced back from Waterford’s devastating All-Ireland defeat is testament to their strength of character, and the regenerative powers of the humble club. Sometimes there’s nothing like getting back to your roots.
Looking ahead to Thurles on Sunday week, Limerick’s Adare (we can’t avoid them Shannonsiders, it seems) were surprise topplers of Tipp champions Toomevara. Owen Dunphy will enjoy pitting his wits against Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin in what will be the ultimate battle of the underdogs. With all due respect to hurling up north (and we all remember what happened Mount Sion a few seasons back), that the winners will play the Ulster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final is an added incentive; as if one was needed.
While Mullane may well be marked by veteran campaigner Mark Foley, Phelan will be up against in-form Adare midfielder Wayne McNamara (a possible Limerick captain under Justin). But whatever happens from hereon in, the bashful Bryan will be long remembered for his brilliant displays during two of De La Salle’s finest ever hours.