Cuala (Dublin) 2-20 Dicksboro (Kilkenny) 1-16
In the end, Dicksboro manager Mark Dowling put a neat enough nutshell around the gulf between these sides. After their Kilkenny final win last weekend, much was made of the fact that they were ending a 24-year wait for a county title. But in summing up his side's task here, Dowling pointed to the fact that eight of his team made their senior championship debut in the Kilkenny quarter-final. Up against the All-Ireland champions, that's an oxygen debt they were always unlikely to be able to make up.
“It will take a hell of a good team to beat Cuala,” Dowling said, fully accepting that his side weren’t anywhere close to being that team here.
“Their strength and conditioning, the game they play, the system they have working for them makes them very difficult to break down. And what I would say is that they looked to have a huge amount of hunger still, which is the key to everything.”
The Dublin champions took hold of this one right from the outset, skating to a 1-4 to 0-2 lead after 14 minutes that could have been far more comprehensive if they’d taken their other goal chances. They were never behind across the hour and only a late goal from substitute Stephen Farrell saved Dicksboro from a double-digit beating.
Star of the show wasn't a long discussion. Fresh from being voted the Young Footballer of the Year and picking up his first All Star on Friday night, Con O'Callaghan was unplayable from early on. After six minutes he took a high catch out in front of Evan Cody, turned him and headed for goal in one movement and blazed a goal chance over the bar. In the ninth, he repeated the trick, only this time his shot for goal missed at the far post.
Dicksboro couldn't let this go on so they switched county star Cillian Buckley in to mark O'Callaghan, for all the good it did. A few minutes later, the Cuala full forward shimmied around Buckley out on the right wing before heading for goal again, this time seeing his hooked shot fall to Jake Malone and the wing forward found the net. It meant Cuala were five points up with only a quarter-hour gone.
More than that, it meant Dicksboro were now operating with their best player in containment mode at the edge of his own square. Buckley had started the game as a spare man in the pocket between three and six, mirroring Seán Moran’s role for Cuala at the other end. Chained to the desk at full back, his free-running, pass-picking game was never going to be used to full effect. Worse again, O’Callaghan proved to be spectacularly unperturbed by Buckley’s attentions.
Leading 1-10 to 0-8 at half-time, Cuala gave up the first score after the restart only for O’Callaghan to pull off the score of the day almost immediately. Sprinting out onto a cleared ball on the Dicksboro 45, he left Buckley in a vapour trail, looping out around him and splitting the posts from the left sideline. It was majestic stuff.
By the end, O’Callaghan had 1-3 against his name and was either fouled for a free or had the last pass for a further 1-5. Dicksboro tried three different markers on him and he scored against them all. The hearts of Dublin hurling followers must crack and splinter a little every time they see him in action.
Dicksboro made the occasional burst at getting into the game but could never make the gap any smaller than four points. Cuala were merciless in answering scores with immediate scores and by early in the second half, it was only the assured free-taking of Shane Stapleton that was keeping the Kilkenny team's total running at all. When O'Callaghan banged home the second Cuala goal on 45 minutes, the game was in the books and the rest was just playing out time.
Cuala go on to meet Wexford champions St Martin's next, with Leinster and, clearly, more than that on their minds. Mattie Kenny shrugged afterwards when it was put to him that they still looked like a team who were hungry for more. What else would they be?
“Yeah, I’ve been asked that question a number of times and to be honest, I don’t understand it. Cuala as a team had success 23, 24 years ago but the last three years, our time has come. Things change – some other team will come and have their spell at some stage. So while the opportunity is there for us, we need to push on and achieve as much as we can.”
CUALA: Seán Brennan; Simon Timlin, Cian O'Callaghan, Oisín Gough; John Sheanon, Seán Moran, Paul Schutte; Jake Malone (1-0), Darragh O'Connell (0-1); Seán Treacy, Colm Cronin (0-3), David Treacy (0-9, eight frees); Colum Sheanon, Con O'Callaghan (1-3), Nicky Kenny (0-2).
Subs: Niall Carty (0-2) for Kenny (53 mins); Cían Waldron for C Sheanon (54 mins).
DICKSBORO: Darragh Holohan; Conor Doheny, Evan Cody, Michael Fagan; Thomas Kenny, Cilian Buckley, Aidan Nolan; Ollie Walsh (0-1), Robbie Fitzpatrick; Eoin Gough (0-2), Shane Stapleton (0-8, five frees, three 65s), Oisín Gough (0-2); Robbie Murphy (0-2), Martin Gaffney (0-1), Bill Sheehan.
Subs: Stephen Farrell (1-0) for E Gough (44 mins); Kevin Kenny for Murphy (44 mins); Paul O'Flynn for Nolan (53 mins).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)