Cuala : A Stand-out Club in All Regards
It may seem difficult to believe, but it’s less than thirty years since north-side clubs referred to Cuala, quasi-affectionately, as “the lost tribe of the north side”. Typically, there was an expectation on the north side that when you crossed the Liffey, you’d generally meet more agreeable follows on the G.A.A. field. Cuala was considered the most notable exception!
Folklore in north county villages, which has no doubt grown legs, tells of the endless hours travelling just one stop short of the “Costa del Bray” and “battles” in more than the metaphorical sense of the word.
In fact, the story of Cuala’s re-emergence, having dropped to the second tier of league hurling for nine of the 27 years between reaching two Leinster Senior Club Hurling Championship finals, in one regard is remarkable. In another, however, it follows perfectly the socio-economic patterns of Dublin G.A.A.
They are one of only two hurling clubs who have crossed the boundary line of 2006, winning a Dublin Senior Championship either side.
If you track the broader success of Dublin G.A.A. clubs, you’ll find that the patterns pertaining to senior championship success have been inextricably linked to house prices.
Pre 1992 and post 1997 marks the boundary in football. Before this, you could expect clubs from the areas on the lower end of house pricing scale in Dublin to be champions. Since 2006, in hurling and 1998 in football, you can expect it to be linked to the areas with higher ones.
In that regard, both Cuala and St. Vincent’s, the most noteworthy mould breaker in football, are actually unremarkable. The socio-economics of both clubs’ catchment areas have swung with this statistical pattern.
Marino, Vincent’s catchment area, was the Free State’s first huge council housing development scheme in the twenties. Now, many of the great grandchildren of those who first took up residence in the estate, couldn’t afford to live there.
Kilmacud Croke’s, the other to break the mould in hurling, were predominantly a club of country players in Dublin when they won their championships in the sixties and seventies, if not eighties too. Now they’re nearly all homegrown in Dublin 4.
Cuala, once hailed predominantly from the council estate of Shankill, but things have all changed. The socio-economic shift has been so noteworthy, that they raised no objection when a new club, Shankilll GAA, took up residence in 2013 in what was once their heartland. Cuala now hail from the leafier parts of south Dublin, once upon a time keener on the oval ball the round ones.
However, it would be disingenuous to simply put Cuala’s rise down to purely organic socio-economic patterns. There are clubs with significantly larger catchment areas where house prices aren’t far off the catchment area of Cuala’s, who haven’t made anything like the rise that Cuala have.
Unless an angel in the form of a primary and secondary school teacher or three lands in your catchment area, under-age development doesn’t fall out of the sky.
With the under-age section in Cuala a shadow of its past, in the early noughties, some wise men decided to put in place a new plan of action for under-age development. This plan of action has come to fruition as they compete in the All-Ireland hurling final this St. Patrick’s Day, less than twenty years on.
However, what is perhaps equally noteworthy is the impeccable manner in which they have done it. The standards of etiquette and discipline with which Cuala have risen up the G.A.A. ladder are exceptionally admirable.
Undoubtedly, their discipline has been at the heart of their 2016/17 success. They have conceded less scoreable frees than any other side they’ve faced.
However, their discipline runs much deeper than purely gaining tactical advantages on the field. Three days after an under 21 side I managed played their junior football team in a challenge match a few years ago, I received the most unusual of phone calls.
Word had filtered back to Cuala that one of our players had had his cheek fractured in an off the ball incident during the game. While reliable accounts had informed me that the strike was uncalled for and came from behind, if you were to guess which one of our lads would be involved in a scrap, it would have been the lad who had his cheek fractured. Neither he nor the management had complained. If you live by the sword you die by it. Our lad had been the only one of that team sent off in seven years of football and hurling.
However, a Cuala committee member rang me out of the blue to investigate. I was informed that the committee in Cuala, had long since become unhappy with the standards of discipline in the club and had made a decision to internally investigate every red card or serious incident involving one of their players.
Though I never personally followed it up, word was that Cuala themselves had handed out a suspension to the player involved. In a day and age where clubs and counties more typically look to find loopholes which will get even the most heinous of offenders out of suspensions, it was most admirable.
I’ve kept a close eye on them since. I couldn’t help but notice a number of their supporters do something at a football league match I attended a few years ago, I’d almost abandoned doing myself on account of the suspicious looks I tended to receive closer to home. They applauded noteworthy scores from the opposition!
I even witnessed one Cuala clad supporter applaud a superb Croke’s point in the heat of second half battle in the championship final last November!
Let’s face it. Ballyea don’t exactly hail from a sprawling metropolis. You couldn’t begrudge them the win if they achieve it this coming Friday.
However, should Cuala take the title, it will not just be a victory for a forward-thinking club who put in place a top-notch under-age system twenty odd years ago. Should they win, it will represent the most noble of achievements from a team and club who play the games in a manner in which all clubs and counties, ideally, would aspire to.
By Stephen O’Meara