Intense training causing players to quit - Mullane
John Mullane has hurled with fire and fury for Waterford since he was 19, but he wonders how much longer he can continue to dig deep for the cause.
Mullane is not writing himself off but, at the age of 30, with plenty of mileage on the body clock, the De La Salle clubman is philosophical about the future.
In fact, he believes the game at the highest level has become so pressured in terms of physicality and commitment that players' careers are being considerably shortened.
"My first game for Waterford was a league match against Derry in Fraher Field 11 years ago. It's a long time ago now and training and commitment has been stepped up so much," Mullane reflects ahead of Sunday's Munster championship showdown with Limerick.
"I've got 11 years behind me, but I just can't see for the life of me how a young fella coming in now is going to put in 10 years in a row at that level because the bar is being raised every year.
"Since I first started it's incredible how much of a big change there has been within training and preparation. It's not only within Waterford. I'd say it's across the board, really. It's in every county.
"Sometimes I do feel that, in many ways, the enjoyment has gone out of training, because the body is being pushed so much that when you go training, you can be a bit flat."
More to the point, Mullane has known many tough days when defeat was hard to take, albeit tempered by success with club and county.
The 2008 All-Ireland final -- when the Decies ran into one of the greatest teams to play the game at their peak -- was a downer. But last year's epic Munster championship victory after a replay tasted sweet, as did De La Salle's All-Ireland club success three years ago.
The warrior in Mullane won't stop trying for the Holy Grail of an All-Ireland victory, but first Waterford must overcome the hurdle that is Allianz Hurling League Division 2 champions Limerick.
"I honestly don't know where I get the motivation from after having so many knocks, especially with the club this year. We came within a stone's throw of getting to the final, and maybe winning it," Mullane recalls.
"It was extremely tough to take because we put so much into it. We really targeted winning the club All-Ireland and I suppose it was unfortunate, the way the result panned out in the end. That's hurling.
"It was even harder watching on St Patrick's Day, half thinking you could have been there yourself, and they (Galway guys) won so well, too.
"But that's hurling. You take your kicks in the teeth. You have your good days and your bad days, but you've to bounce back, and go again. Personally, I just keep coming back and coming back, and keep believing that one day we will get that big prize.
"Every time I set out, I set out to win an All-Ireland and it's no different this year. I'm not training my a**e off to compete. I'm going training every evening because I still believe we are good enough to pick up that medal and to pick up the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
"Hopefully, we will be good enough, but every team setting out is no different either. The fact is we've a tough match against Limerick, so we're not looking beyond that at this stage."
Waterford's meeting with Limerick on Sunday brings him full circle, as 10 years ago, on June 10, 2001, the fiery forward made his championship debut.
Mullane won't want a repeat of that 4-11 to 2-14 defeat, but he feels that the Decies are on the right track for a serious championship challenge this year.
"We're optimistic. We had a good league campaign and Davy (Fitzgerald) and the management, they blooded an awful lot of players," he says.
"All 32 players got a game and we were very close. If Dublin hadn't got that result down in Cork we would have been in a league final.
"All in all it, was a satisfying league campaign, which will bode well going into the championship."
Looking to the future, Mullane highlights the solid base of underage hurling which is paying dividends for Waterford and will continue to do so in years to come.
"There's massive work being done throughout the county and in colleges hurling -- the likes of De La Salle College and the likes of Derek (McGrath) and Blackwater College and fellas such as Denis Ring and them down in Dungarvan CBS, and the likes of Peter Power.
"Sometimes I don't think they get the credit they deserve for the work that's being put in at colleges level.
"It's attractive to pick up a hurley in Waterford now, whereas before it would have been soccer or rugby or whatever.
"But credit is also due to the teams that have gone before.
"Because of the likes of Ken McGrath and Tony Browne and Dan Shanahan and Paul Flynn and all the rest, we have Darragh Fives, Paudie Mahoney and all these young fellas emerging.
"They're hurling now because they've seen the success, and they've seen the matches we've been involved in over the last 10 years."