John Mullane had a day to remember on the day of the 2002 Munster SHC final, when Waterford won their first provincial title since 1963.
The Déise, under Justin McCarthy taking charge of his first season with the county, were set for a showdown clash with Tipperary having overcome Cork in the Munster semi-final on a scoreline of 1-16 to 1-15. Tipp were the reigning All Ireland champions and many people’s fancy heading into the game.
Any sports fan worth their salt will remember what else the summer of 2002 was famed for, of course. The soccer World Cup in South Korea and Japan was ongoing and it just so happened that on Sunday 30th June of that year, the Munster Senior Hurling Championship final and the FIFA World Cup final would both fall.
As the hurlers of Waterford and Tipperary prepared to go to battle in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the footballers of Brazil and Germany went toe-to-toe in Yokohama.
John Mullane had a bet placed on Brazil to win the tournament outright, along with potent striker, Ronaldo, to finish as top goalscorer in the competition. The Samba superstars, including the likes of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Reberto Carlos and Cafu toppled the Germans, winning 2-0 with Ronaldo bagging the brace of goals to finish up as the 2002 World Cup’s top scorer with eight goals to his name.
Mullane, as well as his teammate Brian Phelan, were ecstatic, having pocketed a huge amount of cash ahead of their massive game that day, as he explained to the Racing Post GAA Championship podcast:
“Back in 2002, we won the Munster final for the first time in 39 years. But on that day the World Cup final was on.
“I was after backing Brazil to win the World Cup and Ronaldo to be top goalscorer, and I did the two of them in a double.
“I won the bones of three-and-a-half grand and my good friend, Brian ‘The Bull’ Phelan was on the team that day as well and he was up about two-and-a-half grand,” he said.
“So, between the two of us we were up about six grand before a ball was even pucked!”
The De La Salle clubman went on to score four points in his team’s 2-23 to 3-12 win over the Premier to top off a quite simply unbelievable day for him. After winning €3,500 on the morning of the game and bringing home the county’s first Munster title in nearly four decades, celebrations went on long into the week in Waterford for John and his teammates.
“I remember saying to The Bull and the lads, “this could be a good day,” and low and behold, we pushed on and won the Munster final against the All Ireland champions, Tipperary,” the 36-year-old proceeded.
“And let’s just say, a good chunk of those winnings were gone by the Thursday – all on sociable and enjoyable drinks. Let’s just say, I put me hand in me pocket that week.”
Although Mullane never got his hands on that coveted Liam McCarthy Cup with the Déise, hurling fans across the length and breadth of Ireland would agree that there is hardly a man more deserving of a Celtic cross. It is stories like this, along with his raw passion and enthusiasm for the game that have endeared him to all small ball fans, Waterford folk and neutrals alike.