Cuala Goals Out-gun Vincent’s

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Cuala 4-16 – 2-16 St. Vincent’s

Cuala have progressed to their third senior hurling championship final in a row after a two goal victory over St. Vincent’s.

On one hand, you could say that they kept the Marino men at arm’s length, but it would be a touch too simple a conclusion. The sides were level with just over ten minutes remaining after Cian McBride had scored Vincents’ third point in quick succession to equalise.

In fact, had the referee not called back a quick puck-out from Damien Russell, a minute later, for no apparent reason, with Vincent’s in possession near the half way line, they may well have taken the lead.

In the end, however, three things were the difference. Cuala had that extra bit of savvy when it came to playing the ball out of their half back line, playing some ball down precariously narrow channels, yet reaching their destination on the large majority.

Secondly, was the capacity of Cuala to finish ruthlessly when the goal opportunities arose, none more so than Colm Cronin who netted twice in the first half. Vincent’s had more clear-cut goal chances in the first half.

And thirdly – you guessed it! Con O’Callaghan. After being limited to a mere mortal performance for the opening three quarters, he was devastating in the final quarter scoring one goal and a point and being fouled for two scored frees.

Vincents’ opening appeared too good to be true as they raced into a three point to no score lead. In fact, it could have been more had Seán Brennan not superbly stopped a one-on-one from Vincents’ full forward, John Hetherenton. Saying that, Hetherenton will be disappointed not to have left the keeper with no chance from point blank range.

If Vincents’ opening seemed too good to be true, it was. A blitz of 2-4 in six minutes saw Cuala storm into the game. Colm Cronin had shown all of his class to net both, after some superb inter-play from O’Callaghan and Colum Sheanon to set him up for the second.

Vincents’ problem continued straight from the same pattern as early on against Croabh in the last round. They kept trying short puck-outs against a Cuala side who were drawing eleven back, and were turned over four times to the tune of 1-2 in the space of ten minutes, 1-1 of which came in this 2-4 Cuala blitz.

Vincent’s didn’t lie down, however, and their key threat became apparent when they gained a penalty to bring them back into it. The large figures of Hetherenton and Keith Connolly in the full forward line would play havoc with Cuala all afternoon, and it was from this source, under a high ball, that Connolly was fouled for the penalty.

Brennan stopped superbly off Hetherenton’s high strike to the keeper’s left, but the referee correctly ordered a re-take after a Cuala defender had been far too close to the initial strike. The second effort looked frighteningly similar to the first, except that Brennan’s stick could only touch it into the side-netting.

With David and Seán Treacy playing quite deep towards the midfield, it allowed Rúairí Trainor to sit in the hole in front of corner back, Mark O’Keefe, who was trying to stay with O’Callaghan. In fact, one of Vincent’s five forward, typically played as a third midfielder, so frequently, Vin’s were left with two spare at the back, if one of their middle men dropped from the centre. Essentially it meant that O’Callaghan was double marked, which is why he only had a hand in a two, maybe three scores, in the first half.

Mark Schutte partnered him up front after spending the opening minutes at wing forward.

After another high ball into the Cuala box, the stand-out player of the evening, midfielder Rian McBride, struck on the ground to the net, announcing that Vincent’s weren’t going to roll over, now trailing by just a point.

They would come to dominate the second quarter and looked to take lead into the break, only for Jake Malone to steal in, untracked from the middle, to take a hand-pass off Schutte after a superb catch off a long ball into the box, to bag Cuala’s third goal of the half.

Cuala would lead by 3-8 to 2-7 at the break.

It was clear that Cuala were intent on going short at all costs in the second half, and though they managed to transition to the forwards, they didn’t score a huge amount.

In fact, they would only score from frees for the opening twenty minutes of the half, four in total. Saying that, on three occasions, the man fouled may well have scored otherwise, so they were frees which were very much forced.

But it was Vincent’s were the stronger early in the second half. With the introduction of Ronan Fallon at centre back, an added poise came to their game, as they put up the opening three points of the half to trail by a single point, one coming off a side-line cut from Hetherenton, who was superb throughout.

After Cuala regained a three point lead, a blitz of three points in as many minutes, with Cian McBride’s runs to the fore from wing forward, saw the sides draw level with just over ten minutes remaining.

When a bunch of Vincent’s defenders forced O’Callaghan to shoot wide on the next attack, you could sense the expectation in the Marino section of the crowd.

However, the final ten minutes were the Con O’Callaghan show, aided in no small part by the introduction of Darragh O’Connell at midfield some minutes earlier.

In the space of five minutes, O’Callaghan was fouled for one free, O’Connell for another after a brilliant cutting run, and O’Callaghan took on his man and beat him for another.

Moments later, a good weaving move from Cuala saw Cronin (I think) play a clever ball through for O’Callaghan to net on the ground, devastating Vincent’s, taking a six point lead having been level just a few miutes earlier.

Vincent’ would get two back before that man again, took on the Vincent’s defence only to be unceremoniously hauled down, around the neck, by Trainor, who had clearly had enough of his mazey runs.

Vincent’s would try to break down a Cuala zonal defence in the remaining minutes but, to no avail.

In fact, Cuala could have had another goal, most likely, when Shane Stepleton intercepted a hand-pass from Russell in the Vincent’s goal, but took the responsible option to point, restoring a two goal gap between the sides.

That would be the final score as Cuala march on, looking for three in a row.

By Stephen O’Meara