Mulling retirement, that’s John Mullane this week as he faces into the new year. Santa duties complete on Sunday afternoon last, Mullane was looking forward to a quiet few days with wife Stephanie and his two young daughters (Abbey, six and-a-half, and two-year-old Kate), before deciding whether or not to line out with Waterford for a 13th championship season.
“I’ll enjoy Christmas with the family, chill out, but I’m going to sit down over the holidays with (Waterford manager) Michael Ryan and discuss my future over a cup of coffee, make the call on it. I’m not the kind of fella who can go into something without being 100% committed. If I don’t feel 100% right within myself I won’t do it — it’s all or nothing.
“But if I do commit I will give it everything I have again. You must have that motivation though, you need that drive. The level of commitment that’s required from an inter-county player nowadays is unreal and I’d like to spend more time with the kids. Either way it’s going to be a hard decision.
“I’ve had so many great years with Waterford but you need to be fully motivated, you need to enjoy what you’re doing and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. I’ll enjoy these few weeks, talk to the lads, see what the plan will be.”
Though he’ll be 32 next birthday (January 28) Mullane is still in superb condition, enjoyed another sterling season with club and county.
He won another Waterford senior title with De La Salle, also picked up another All-Star award — his fifth — with the county. A reasonable year, he reckons as he looks back but typical of high-achievers, it’s not what was won that Mullane focuses on, it’s what was missed.
“From a Waterford point of view it didn’t look good early on. We were staring relegation in the face in the league after losing the first three games. We regrouped, Ken McGrath and Seán Cullinane came in (as new selectors), had a very positive impact. We got a good result against Galway up in Galway, a venue where we’ve always found it difficult to win in the past, that started it off.
“Then we beat Dublin in the final game, though they weren’t at full strength that day, and we managed to save ourselves from relegation. That was a real boost to us going into the championship.”
Their first game there came with a little added spice, a Munster semi-final against Clare, who were managed by former Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald. “Nobody gave us a much of a chance, Clare are a good up-and-coming team, but we came through a good battle and any time you win a Munster championship game, it feels good. It was on to a Munster final then, against Tipperary again — that was our fourth Munster final in a row, a new record for Waterford.
“We went toe to toe with them for 60 minutes but Tipperary had the bit of luck towards the end, the goals they got — the final scoreline didn’t really reflect our efforts on the day.”
Munster final lost, it was on to an All-Ireland quarter-final against old provincial rivals Cork, and disappointment for Mullane.
“We felt this was a game we could win, given our record against Cork over the years. We started very badly though, six or seven points down after the first quarter but we overcame that dodgy spell, got into it, and dominated most of the rest of the game. We lost, but that was a game we could have won, though in fairness to Cork, they emptied the bench and their subs probably won it for them. I felt it was a missed opportunity.
“Had we beaten Cork we had a good championship record against Galway, a good possibility of being able to get to an All-Ireland final.”
Even on the club front, and despite a third Waterford title in five years, there was more disappointment for Mullane.
“We were probably a little bit unlucky in the Munster final against Thurles Sars but they have improved a lot over the last few years. They had become the team to beat and we felt that if we could get past them we might have gone all the way this year. I suppose it all balances out, swings and roundabouts — in the Munster final two years ago we had all the luck against them, they had all the opportunities, probably should have won. This time we had all the opportunity but no luck. But look, they’re a very good side, worthy winners in the end.”
There were positives of course, beyond even his own All-Star award and the county title. There was the growing maturity of what is now a very young but talented Waterford side.
“The goalkeeper, Stephen O’Keeffe, is a fantastic prospect, I think this fella has a massive future,’’ Mullane predicts. “He has all the attributes, could be the leading goalkeeper in the country in a few years. Our own clubman, Stephen Daniels, came in at corner-back, had a very good year, slotted in well. We also blooded Philip Mahony in midfield, young Gavin O’Brien and Martin O’Neill in the forwards — that’s a lot of young lads taking their opportunity, and that’s great to see. Another two or three young lads are coming on as well so it’s all looking good for the future.”
The hope in Waterford of course will be that Mullane will remain part of that future — likewise in hurling generally, given his national popularity, his reputation as one of the finest hurlers never to win an All-Ireland title.
He appears to be leaning in that direction but as yet, no decision made.
“One option is to come in late again for the league. The last couple of years that really helped me, did me the world of good come the championship. I’m at that age now where I’m trying to look after the body as best I can until March, then once the bright evenings come in, you look forward to training again. I had thought 2012 was going to be my final year but I did enjoy it. Now, I’m considering everything again.”
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