Mullen is made of the right stuff
By John Harrington
It might be days yet, but already Adrian Mullen is looking like a generational hurling talent.
You have to be something special to immediately flourish as he has in his rookie Championship season without even the benefit of a League campaign to prepare you for the challenge.
He’s just a year out of secondary school and isn’t just surviving as an inter-county hurler, but thriving.
It took him some time to adapt to the pace of the game in his first three Championship matches against Dublin, Carlow, and Galway, but since then he’s scored a tally of 1-11 from play in Kilkenny’s last four Championship matches.
His performance against Limerick in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final was his best yet as he scored four points from play against the most renowned full-back line in the country.
It shouldn’t be, but Mullen has made the transition from underage star to senior county hurler of substance look easy.
“Jeez, no, it's not easy at all,” protested Mullen yesterday at a media event to promote Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-20 semi-final against Cork.
“It's never going to be easy playing against these top teams.
“I just have to stay working hard and hopefully things go your way, I suppose. It was a big change from club to county so I had to try to adapt to that fairly quickly.”
He was surely helped in that regard by his club Ballyhale Shamrocks’ All-Ireland triumph earlier this year.
The experience of winning an All-Ireland title in Croke Park and the opportunity to test himself against high calibre opposition on the run to the final accelerated his development.
The fact that he’s playing in a Kilkenny forward line alongside club-mates TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly has made the transition to inter-county hurling that bit easier too because the trio have such an instinctive understanding on the pitch.
"Yeah, I suppose we have,” said Mullen. “We wouldn't even notice it too much ourselves because we've been playing together a long time.
“But I suppose we know each other's strengths and weaknesses. I suppose it made it that bit easier settling in with them.”
Colin Fennelly is also Mullen’s first cousin, and he cites the advice and support he’s gotten from both Colin and his brother Michael as another factor in his quick development as an inter-county hurler.
His own immediate family environment has also hot-housed his talent. Three of Mullen’s four brothers are older than him so he had to learn how to look after himself from an early age when a ball was thrown in between them.
“Yeah, they used to throw me around the place alright in the games out the back,” laughs Mullen.
“They were fairly tough! We used to beat lumps out of each other!”
It clearly didn’t do him any harm because Mullen looks surprisingly comfortable coping with the physicality of senior inter-county hurling.
He’s powerfully built for his age, and showed once again against Limerick that he’s not afraid to throw his weight around the place.
The point he scored from the right wing in the first half after he’d helped dispossess Tom Morrissey was one of the scores of the game because it sent out the message that Kilkenny were going to meet Limerick’s physicality head on.
“It's obviously pleasing to get the rewards for it (hard work),” said Mullen.
“Fair play to John Donnelly, I think he hit him a good shot before it and that knocked him back a few yards.
“Credit to the lads they all worked their socks off all around the pitch and thankfully we got our rewards for it.
“Limerick are obviously a huge team. I'd seen that in the parade walking around that they're a very big team. We just worked hard all around the pitch and thankfully we got the result.
“We obviously felt we could get the win going out but we knew we had to be 100 per cent all around the pitch and obviously work our socks off. Thankfully we did that and we got the result.”
He describes the satisfaction he felt after the final whistle blew against Limerick as one of the best buzzes he’s experienced on a hurling pitch, but he hasn’t had long to savour the moment.
He’s the main man for the Kilkenny U-20 team that will play Cork in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final, so his focus all week has been trying to get his body right for that challenge.
“It takes a few days for the body to recover,” said Mullen. “It was obviously a really tough game, the intensity was something that I probably haven't been involved in before. It does take it's toll, but I'm recovering well for the weekend ahead.
“Cork are obviously a very good team. They were favourites for the minor (two years ago) and probably are favourites for this Championship as well. We know they have great players in Brian Turnbull and (Robert) Downey and those lads.
“We'll be expecting a big challenge for them.”