Sharpshooter Mullane key to Waterford hopes
JOHN Mullane wasn't Declan Ryan's problem two years ago but, like every other Tipperary supporter in Semple Stadium, Ryan was acutely aware of the threat presented by Waterford's rampaging No 13 as he waged what, at times, appeared like a one-man war on Brendan Cummins' goal.
Luckily for Tipperary, and unfortunately for Waterford, Mullane's support units weren't all that effective apart from the dead-ball missiles launched by Eoin Kelly. At the other end, Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly, Seamus Callanan and Noel McGrath were carrying out ground and air attacks which, backed up by the imperious Padraic Maher, saw Tipp safely home in the Munster final -- much to the relief of manager Liam Sheedy.
Maher got the man-of-the-match award at No 7 which raises the question of just how much damage Mullane would have done if a lesser left half-back had been in the first line of the Tipperary defence. As it was, Mullane pilfered 1-5 off a limited supply into the corner. It was his third highest championship score up to then.
Seven games and almost two years later, he matched it, scoring 2-2 against Limerick in last month's Munster semi-final, his second goal in the final minute winning the game.
Mullane's intuitive understanding of where he should be took him to precisely the right area to pick up Kelly's cross-field pass and, once in possession, his finishing instincts took over, albeit with a lucky break as the ball took a deflection on its way to the net.
It was Mullane's 14th championship goal and one which will remind Tipperary of the opportunism which has served him so spectacularly well over the last 10 years. Tipperary have good reason to recall their first encounter with Mullane, who shot four valuable points in the memorable 2002 Munster final when Waterford won their first Munster title since 1963.
He has scored against Tipp in all six meetings since then, which is hardly surprising given that he has drawn a blank in only three of 43 championship games.
There's no doubt that he remains the most dynamic performer in the Waterford attack for, in addition to his consistent strike rate, he provides real inspiration for his colleagues with his mazy runs, usually at great speed.
Unfortunately for him and Waterford, he doesn't always get the required level of support, which enables defences to concentrate on isolating him. That will again be the instruction to the Tipp backs because Ryan knows that if Mullane's threat is blunted it will seriously reduce the Deise's prospects of upsetting the odds.
Not that the odds will concern Mullane, who has spent his career -- both at club and county level -- taking them on with that special brand of enthusiasm he brings to his game. Curbing it will be high on Tipperary's priority list on Sunday.
John Mullane FactFile
C'ship debut: v Limerick, June 2001
C'ship games: 43
Average per game: 3.7pts
Highest score: 3-1 v Cork, 2003 Munster final.
Blanks: 3 (v Limerick, 2003 Munster semi-final; v Cork, 2005 Munster semi-final; v Limerick, 2007 All-Ireland semi-final).
Record v Tipperary: 0-4 (2002 Munster final); 1-0 (2004 Munster semi-final); 0-1(2006 Munster semi-final); 0-3 (2006 All-Ireland quarter-final); 0-3 (2008 All-Ireland semi-final); 1-5 (2009 Munster final); 0-3 (2010 All-Ireland semi-final).