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23 Apr

LiveGaelic Legends – John Mullane

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Posted by Connor Murphy in LiveGaelic Legends | Apr 2013

In this week’s LiveGaelic Legends interview Connor Murphy talks to Waterford hero John Mullane.

John has been a mainstay of Waterford Hurling’s fight back to the top echelons of the sport. A truly visceral player, he is known equally for his amazing scoring records as he is for fervent fist pumps that raised the spirits of many Waterford crowds.

John talks about the development of De La Salle into All Ireland contenders, the development of his career and why he thinks we will see more and more early retirements in the GAA.

LiveGaelic Legends – John Mullane – Waterford

Playing for De La Salle you along with the current crop of players that has come through has transformed a team that had had more success in football historically to All Ireland Hurling Club Championship contenders, was that down to a good group of players coming through or was there wider effort from people in the club?
When I first got involved back in the 80’s there was a plan put in place for a restructuring the juvenile structure of the club. Back then we were the whipping boys of Waterford at senior level, so they come up with a plan to restructure and now we’re reaping the benefits. It was really through Kevin Moran’s age group and a few others, we won a few Feile na Geals back in the ’90s and early ’00s and it was from there that the team reaped the benefit at senior level.

In 2009 De La Salle was the first club to reach an All Ireland final on its first attempt, did you feel pressure as a veteran of Croke Park at that stage to shoulder more responsibility?
No I didn’t really because for us back in ’09 we were on the crest of a wave, we were on a rollercoaster ride, when we first started out back in ’08 we were fifth or sixth favourites to win our local championship. We won our first county championship and then every game in the Munster club was bonus territory.

We had a bit of luck in winning the Munster club and a bit of luck in the semi final. We approached the All Ireland Final and probably knew deep down, to be honest, that we were never really going to beat Portumna and in fact, in my view Portumna are probably the best team in the country in the last four or five years and probably the best club team ever to play. There was no sense of burden, we were going to go up and enjoy the day and have a crack at it.

john mullaneYour first senior Championship game for Waterford came in 2001 against Limerick. Waterford lost that day losing a strong lead in the process, was that match an early lesson in the harsh realities of Intercounty hurling?
That day we threw away an eleven point lead and I happened to pull my hamstring in the first half. I learnt an awful lot that day, more on the physical side that I would have to bulk up more so than anything else. We learnt a harsh lesson that year, but thankfully we came back the following year and won our first Munster title in 39 years.

How important was that Munster Final win in 2002 to not only the team, but also Waterford as a whole?
It was massive because we were there in ’98 and were unlucky to lose. I suppose you have all the young players coming through now at the moment at college level, for them to see a Waterford team winning a bit of silverware and a Munster Championship had a massive effect on Hurling in Waterford going forward for the future.

In 2003 you won your first All Star award, being 22 at the time how did an accolade of that esteem affect you as a young player?
For me 2003 I won my first All Star and I suppose from 2001 to 2002 every game that approached there wasn’t an expectation there, but when you win your first All Star there is a case of from then on expectation rises upon you. I was after setting a high bar for myself and I didn’t want those standards to drop and thankfully I was able to maintain those standards.

The 2004 Munster final is viewed by many as one of the best games in modern memory. Did you feel that maybe the tide would turn against Waterford when you were sent off in that match?
My first reaction was to put my eyes up to heaven and say ‘what am I after doing here’ and ‘am I really after leaving the lad’s down’. For the whole second half every thought was going through my head, what if, but thankfully the lads were able to pull it out of the bag and win a fantastic Munster final, but there were repercussions and those repercussions were that I would miss an All Ireland semi final against Kilkenny, which we happened to lose by three points.

2007 was Waterford’s first National League title in over 40 years, did beating a Kilkenny team that was so dominant during that period in the final make that victory all the sweeter?
For us in 2007, looking back on 2004 and 2002, we were after winning two Munster Championships and beating Cork and Tipperary. But to win a national title, Munster titles are nice to win, but we really had to push on and win a national title and to beat Kilkenny in a final was a fantastic feeling. It was our only win over that great Kilkenny team and it was a fantastic game to be involved in and a fantastic day for Waterford to pick up our first National League title in over 40 years.

john mullaneWaterford started 2008 with an unexpected loss against Clare and soon after manager Justin McCarthy left his post. There were rumours at the time that a drop in support from the team coupled with that loss ultimately decided his future, is there any truth in that or was it something that was media manufactured?
It was a case of both really – when we got beaten by Clare there was big questions asked amongst the players. It came down to a vote and the vast majority voted for Justin to go.

Davy Fitzgerald took over and changed the team’s fortunes, what did he bring that was different from the previous management?
I suppose he brought in a level of professionalism, things that were new to us like diet and hydration. Justin was hurling orientated and Davy was a bit more professional and more into the tactical end of it.

That year you met Kilkenny in the All Ireland Final, did losing in the fashion that you did that day hurt more knowing you had beaten them the year before to win the League?
It did, and I suppose we have many regrets. You couldn’t fault the preparation, but we met different animal on the day. It was Kilkenny at their peak and I suppose we had an off day while for Kilkenny anything they hit turned to gold. For us we probably got to the All Ireland the wrong year, when players were coming to the end of it.

Your retirement has come as a huge shock to a lot of people, especially in light of the fact that you have won four All Stars in a row in the last four years. Was it a decision that took you a long time to come to?
The last year or year and a half I was finding the commitment level hard to comprehend and I was just hanging in there. I had my mind made up throughout the course of the summer last year that I was going to see out the year and I gave it every opportunity and thought about it all over Christmas and nothing changed my mind to go back.

Do you think that the increasing level of commitment and expectation, not only from managers, but also fans, will mean that more and more players will retire at younger ages in the future?
Absolutely, there is so much to deal with now, the level of training, how much it takes up in your social life too. You give up so much and then there is the level of pressure that players are under to go and perform. I do see that in the next couple of years that many players starting out now, I don’t see too many of them going beyond thirty.

Being someone that was always known for getting crowds going and lifting the players around you have you put any thought into using those skills in the future as a manager?
It’s an avenue I’d love to get into in the future. I’ve played under some great managers and I’ve taken an awful lot on board, Gerald McCarthy, Justin McCarthy and Davy Fitzgerald, I’ve learnt so much over the years and I’d hopefully like to give something back in the right way in years to come.

There has been debate recently over the restructuring of the Hurling Championship on the last year or two, do you think it’s something that needs to be done or is it a case of trying too big of a change too soon?
At this moment of time there seems to be a lot of changes within the hurling league and the championship and I suppose they’re going to have to come up with a system that everyone is happy and content with and stick with it

What are your thoughts on the future of hurling in Waterford?
I think Waterford have a bit of rebuilding to do, but I think the future is very bright. We have some fantastic talent coming through at College level and at under age level to. I see Waterford having a bright future and winning a bit more silverware and bringing the glory days back to Waterford.

Having finished talking to John you got the sense of immense pride he felt playing for Waterford. His time with the county and its success in the past and the future are obviously very close to his heart. We at Live Gaelic would like to thank John for taking the time to talk to us and sharing his views and memories.

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