Cats' rising star Mullen taking whirlwind start all in his stride
It's a little over a year ago that Adrian Mullen was preparing for just his second senior hurling campaign with Ballyhale.
His first season with the big boys had been unremarkable. For a club like Ballyhale, a county semi-final appearance is the kind of year that is put to one side, never to be mentioned again.
But in his second year, Mullen and Ballyhale blossomed. With Henry Shefflin at the helm, a county final appearance turned into a county title win that put the club back in a familiar rhythm. Soon they were kings of Leinster. It wasn't long before they were club hurling's top cats again on St Patrick's Day.
Despite his tender years, Mullen was key to it all. Not long after their All-Ireland win, he was named Club Hurler of the Year, seeing off team-mate Colin Fennelly and Ballygunner star Pauric Mahony.
A few short weeks later and he was making his championship debut for Kilkenny in their win over Dublin in Nowlan Park. Whirlwind doesn't begin to describe it. It has been a remarkable journey that has taking him from watching some of his heroes to playing alongside them.
"At the start it is bit overwhelming (playing with his heroes) but when you start to play and train with them and pucking around you see they are all sound fellas and you get on so well with them and you create that bond. Any good team has that bond and we had with Ballyhale. They'd be so good to the younger lads they'd drive them on they are good like that."
Perhaps his rapid progress shouldn't be that much of a surprise. In hurling terms, Mullen is to the manner born. A first cousin of the Fennellys and a neighbour of Henry Shefflin, Mullen grew up in hurling's Harvard.
"Down in Ballyhale you have so many leaders and you look up to them and copy what they are doing. You won't go too far wrong copying TJ (Reid), Michael and Colin (Fennelly) and Joey (Holden) and you have Henry as well and he gave us a lot of constructive criticism," he said at the launch of the 2019 Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling All-Ireland U-20 Championship.
As last week wore on he had an inkling he could be involved from the start against Dublin. When it came down to it, Brian Cody gave him the nod and a few brief words of encouragement.
"He only vaguely mentioned just to go and enjoy it and do what you do best. There was no added pressure to do well and just cherish the experience."
He played every minute of his championship debut and chipped in with a point but it was his club-mate TJ Reid who did most of the heavy lifting.
"Aw stop. He's unbelievable the things he does, you are just in awe of him. His goal and the link-up play ... himself and Colin are doing that the whole time in Ballyhale training so it was no surprise to myself or the Ballyhale lads but outsiders looking in ... it was unreal."
The DCU student looked at home in his first senior championship appearance though he admits the incident where Dublin selector Greg Kennedy caught a short Reid free largely passed him by.
"At the time, it didn't really register with me at all. You were just kind of caught up in the play. I heard the crowd roaring but I didn't really know what they were roaring at. These things happen in the heat of the moment."
His debut was a seminal moment for him but there's no time to dwell on it. His debut was 19 years in the making but he'll likely only have to wait eight days for his second game when they head to Carlow on Sunday.
And having worked under Colm Bonnar when he was involved with Ballyhale, Mullen knows what to expect
"They have Colm Bonnar there, we know him from Ballyhale. We know what he can bring to a team. He'll have them well up for this match on Sunday. I played for him, my first year senior with Ballyhale, himself and Andy Moloney were over us. He's a great manager. He'd have them very fit as well, he's good that way.
"Carlow have come on a good bit in the last few years and fair play to them. We'll respect them and go up and there try to get the win.
"Obviously we're still trying to get into the top three (in Leinster). We'll play Carlow on Sunday and that won't be an easy task. They've put it up to Galway now twice this year. That's very hard to do. We'll try to get over that and see what happens after that."