Mullane’s hat-trick of superbly taken goals gunned down the Dubs, and he also notched four quality points in a magnificent man of the match performance.
Little wonder that manager Justin McCarthy lavished praise on Mullane: “This is the John Mullane we all know, and with his injury problems now out of the way we will be looking to more of the same from him in our important upcoming games.”
The manager added that from the very outset of the league campaign their objective was to qualify for the knockout stage: “We’ve now achieved that, and we can look forward to the quarter-final in two weeks time.”
Waterford had to battle harder for than seemed probable, despite storming into a virtually unassailable thirteen point lead — 2-10 to 0-3 — inside the opening half hour. Their hurling was of their highest quality, while the Dubs were visibly struggling — full back Stephen Hiney a notable exception with his herculean defending.
Even he couldn’t stop Mullane, who snapped up a second-minute Jack Kennedy delivery and powered the ball past goalkeeper Gary Maguire from fifteen metres.
With Michael Walsh and Eoin McGrath dominating midfield, and behind them Brian Phelan, Ken McGrath, and Kennedy forming a magnificent half back line the flow of traffic was virtually one way towards the Dublin goal.
Eoin McGrath and Mullane chipped in with super points and while the Dubs did get off the mark with fine scores from Stuart Mullen and a tireless John McCaffrey in the middle of the field, they looked to be in for a right drubbing when Mullane goaled again on 29 minutes after great work by Shane Casey.
That stretched the Waterford lead to 13 points, but then Dublin plucked themselves from the depths of mediocrity, scoring 1-3 without reply.
Their goal was scored by Declan O’Dwyer whose persistence deserved nothing less, and things were looking much brighter for them at the break, when they were 2-11 to 1-6 down.
They resumed in similar vein after half-time, coming at the Waterford defence in waves. Rapid fire points from O’Dwyer, Paul Ryan, and Simon Lambert narrowed the deficit to just five and it was game on.
In fact, it took a super save at the expense of a 65 by goalkeeper Clinton Hennessey to deny O’Dwyer a second Dublin goal in the 47th minute; David O’Callaghan converted the placed ball the deficit was down to four points. A Dublin goal at that stage and the fat would have been well and truly in the fire. That was as good as it was to get for them, and a flurry of Eoin Kelly points eased tensions for the home side, with Mullane finally providing the killer blow with his third goal in the 59th minute after great work by Dan Shanahan and Seamas Prendergast.
There was much to take from the game for manager Justin McCarthy as the league champions prepare for the next defence of their title, but he’ll know lapses of the kind that almost allowed Dublin back into this game early in the second half could bring about their downfall against better opposition. “Yes, there is still plenty of room for improvement, but we are moving in the right direction,” McCarthy said. There are more searching tests ahead.
Waterford: J. Mullane (3-4); E. Kelly(0-96 frees, 0-1 “65‘’); S. Prendergast(0-2); M. Walsh, E. McGrath, D. Shanahan(0-1) each. Dublin: D. O’Callaghan(0-8, 0-6 frees); D. O’Dwyer(1-1); J. McCaffrey(0-2); S. Mullen, J. Burke, P. Ryan, K. Flynn, P. Lambert, Kelly (0-1) each.
C. Hennessey; A. Kearney, K. Moran, R. Foley; B. Phelan, K. McGrath, J. Kennedy; M. Walsh, E. McGrath; D. Shanahan, E. Kelly, S. Walsh; J. Mullane, S. Prendergast, S. Casey.
S. Molumphy for S. Walsh; D. Coffey for Foley; P. Kearney for Casey.
G. Maguire; P. Brennan,S. Hiney, P. Bergin; M. Carton, T. Brady, J. Boland; J. McCaffrey, S. Lambert; S. Mullen, J. Burke, D. O’Dwyer; P. Ryan, K. Flynn, D. O’Callaghan.
S. Kelly for Bergin; M. O’Caroll for Mullen; R. Fallon for Brady.
S. McMahon, Clare.