IF the tortured grimaces on the faces of John Mullane and his Waterford colleagues at the end of the All-Ireland hurling final represented the depths to which a big-day collapse can drag the spirit, the sheer delight he and his team-mates displayed in Thurles yesterday provided an uplifting experience far beyond the confines of De La Salle.
A season of high adventure for De La Salle, which included a first Waterford senior hurling title, seemed destined for a disappointing close when they trailed Adare by 0-9 to 0-2 after 40 minutes of the AIB Munster final, but they put together a powerful surge which steered them to a truly remarkable success.
"People said we were bottlers but we didn't bottle it out there today," said De La Salle captain Mullane, a cult figure who played a significant role in turning the raging tide.
He was the last player to leave Semple Stadium after the presentation, stopping off at various vantage points along the way to be pictured with young admirers.
Meanwhile, in a silent Adare dressing-room the search was on for some explanation of how a game that was gliding comfortably in their direction veered so dramatically over the final 20 minutes.
Having been hit for 1-3 in three minutes, they were out-scored by 1-7 to 0-1 in that 20-minute period as De La Salle finally put their game together in a manner which totally eluded them in a first half where they failed to score.
It wasn't that they didn't have chances but, like Adare, their finishing was atrocious. Adare led the wide count 8-7 at half-time but had also shot five points, a return which looked adequate to put down a platform which would enable them to win a first Munster title.
The heavy conditions demanded a huge work ethic from both teams, which they duly delivered, but with players finding it difficult to set themselves properly on the slippy surface, the standard of shooting dropped way below average.
Adare full-forward Liam Costello shot five wides while scoring 0-3, while Mullane had hit five wides prior to pouncing for the goal which turned the game in the 41st minute.
It was De La Salle's first score from play and came after Adare goalkeeper, Timmy Houlihan, lost control of the ball as he tried to make room to get in a clearance.
It was a case of the right man in the right spot as Mullane spun his shot to the net to cut the margin to three points, 0-9 to 1-3.
That goal rejuvenated De La Salle while Adare failed to respond. De La Salle were level by the 46th minute and while Donncha Sheehan put the Limerick champions ahead again in the 47th minute, it was to be their final score.
Pointed frees by James Quirke (51 and 56 mins) and another from Mullane (54 mins) nudged De La Salle into a winning position which they protected to the finish line.
Adare will spend the rest of the winter wondering how they failed to offer greater protection to a lead that really should have been enough to win a game which didn't live up to expectations until De La Salle launched their impressive rescue package.
It was helped by a brave half-time decision to make no fewer than three changes as De La Salle attempted to break Adare's dominance. Subs Stephen Daniels, Thomas Kearney and Seamus Richardson, in particular, all contributed handsomely to the changing trends.
De La Salle later brought on two more subs which was in contrast to Adare, who played the same 15 all through, surely an indication that they had no
real confidence in their back-up forces.
Mullane, who finished on 1-2, Brian Phelan and James Quirke all put the Adare defence under severe pressure in the closing stages, but it was centre-back Kevin Moran who made the biggest impact of all.
He turned in an inspired performance all through but particularly once Adare were forced to chase the game in the final quarter. He said afterwards that, despite having failed to score in the first half, leaving them 0-5 to 0-0 adrift, they never lost their sense of self-belief.
"We had shot a lot of wides in the first half so at least we were creating the chances. We promised each other at half-time that we would give it 100pc in the second half and see where it took us. The goal was vital -- it brought us right back into the game," he said.
Moran won the man of the match award, edging out Mullane. Not that Mullane will have minded, having led his club in the most remarkable year in their history.
"We knew we had a chance because we always finish strong. This is a great day, not just for De La Salle, but also for Waterford," he said.
Scorers -- De La Salle: J Mullane 1-2, B Phelan (2f), J Quirke (3f) 0-3 each, S Richardson 0-1. Adare: L Costello, C Fitzgerald (3f) 0-3 each, A O'Connell 0-2, D Sexton, D Sheehan 0-1 each.
De La Salle -- S Brenner; A Kelly, I Flynn, M Doherty; D Russell, K Moran, D Greene; B Phelan, C Watt; P Nevin, B Farrell, L Hayes; D Twomey, J Mullane, J Quirke. Subs: S Daniels for Watt (ht), T Kearney for Farrell (ht), S Richardson for Twomey (ht), A O'Neill for Kelly (53), D Dooley for Hayes (57).
Adare -- T Houlihan; S O'Connell, JP Healy, S Lavin; R Kennedy, M Foley, P Keane; W McNamara, A O'Rahilly; A O'Connell, B Foley, C Fitzgerald; D Sexton, L Costello, D Sheehan.
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).