Cuala hold out Against Croke’s for Three in a Row
Cuala 1-13 – 0-13 Kilmacud Croke’s
After a rip-roaring opening where Croke’s looked like men possessed, Cuala have prevailed, once again, as Dublin Senior Hurling champions.
Croke’s brought an intensity to the opening stages which illustrated the hunger of a side who clearly felt they’ve gone too long without a county title.
From the off, with a significant wind in their backs, they brought a high intensity to the middle third which completely stifled Cuala’s typically methodical possession play in that area of the field.
Points from Lorcan McMullan off the throw in, an Oisín O’Rorke free and one each for Fergal Whitely and Seán McGrath saw them take a four point to one lead by the tenth minute.
With Seán Treacy, wearing 10, essentially playing as a third midfielder, and David Treacy wearing 12 but playing as a half forward-cum midfielder, Cuala left the double danger of Con O’Callaghan and Mark Schutte up front with Colum Sheanon taking up the centre forward role and Colm Cronin moving out wide in their four man attack.
In the early stages, however, precious little ball found its way to the full forward line, where Bill O’Carroll marked Con O’Callaghan, and the two early ones sent Schutte’s direction saw Niall Corcaran do an admirable corner back’s job to snuff out the danger.
In fact, Cuala’s typical life-blood, their weaving moves off the short puck-out, had no joy in the early stages, with the opening few resulting in no scores and one conceded upon the first turnover.
With Crokes’ Robert O’Loughlin minding the house as sweeper, in the absence of six, or even five genuine Cuala forwards, Croke’s looked impressive.
However, even before it would begin to show on the score-board, by the twelfth minute, something had become apparent. With Seán Moran to the fore, Cuala had got to grips with the dynamics of the game and started to get into their stride with their possession game.
They would start to make hay off their short pucks and Mark Schutte would win the next two balls played in. He would score one and gain a free off another before Darragh O’Connell, back in the starting side after injury, weaved his magic, cut through the defence, and netted.
If Crokes’ man-marking on O’Callaghan early on had been admirable, the manner in which he was taken out, off the ball, in the split seconds after the goal, was less so.
That the umpires brought it to the referee’s attention but didn’t see fit to instruct the him to brandish a red card, said all there needs to be about recent suggestions about importing country referees and assistants to Dublin. It’s difficult to imagine it would have been let off in Kilkenny.
It was a horrible throw-back to the bad old days of soccer when players could get away with taking the Pelés, Eusebios and Maradonnas out of games by less than noble means.
With Moran giving an inspiring performance as the centre back-cum sweeper, Cuala would continue to dominate adding two more points to take a four point lead.
However, Croke’s recorded their first scores in twenty minutes to bring it back to 1-5 to 0-6 just before break.
Despite excitement from the Croke’s supporters as they drew level with the opening two points of the second half, Cuala looked composed again soon after.
Despite their best efforts, into the wind, Croke’s simply never looked like they had the capacity to weave through the half back line and midfield the same way Cuala did.
A move in the fortieth minute, where Paul Schutte looked to be in serious trouble, under pressure on the ball, said it all about Cuala. Under intense pressure he never just let the ball off, instead cutting inside the men hounding him, off-loading to O’Callaghan who picked out David Treacy who in turn tried an audacious attempt at goal. It would have been as good as you’d ever seen, had it whizzed a few inches inside and not outside the post.
Minutes before that, a superb penalty save from Eoin Dalton against David Treacy would stem the tide of what was coming to look like a Cuala side ready to take charge, after Mark Schutte had been fouled in the box.
With Colm Cronin dictating affairs and O’Callaghan tipping along with points and assists, however, Cuala would score the next four points to lead by as many.
They would, however, look less dangerous up-front once March Schutte went off injured, around the three quarter mark.
As Ross O’Carroll pushed up to the middle area for the final ten, similarly to the two previous rounds, and Fergal Whitely began to consistently lose John Sheanon for the first time all afternoon, and Oisín O’Rorke winning a bit more ball up front, Croke’s would launch a come-back.
Outscoring Cuala by five points to two in the final nine minutes of normal time, they entered injury time just a point down.
Ross O’Carroll weaved his late-late magic again to hand to Whitely the opportunity to equalise, but under intense and disciplined pressure, he shot just wide.
A needlessly conceded free by Damien Kelly moments later, was a sucker punch, allowing Cuala to put two between the sides again.
Late drama would ensue with Croke’s threatening the Cuala goal, but stellar and disciplined defending thwarted Croke’s to the point where an optimistic effort from distance which flew well wide was their best effort.
A final point for David Treacy, nonchalantly struck, four minutes into injury time, put the icing on the cake, as Cuala ran out, deserving winners to record a famous three in a row.
By Stephen O’Meara