Cuala crush double dreams to become first Dublin club in final
Cuala’s dream very much alive as they become first to reach All-Ireland hurling final
Cuala’s Darragh O’Connell picks up the ball during his team’s semi-final win on Saturday. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Inpho
With their own dream making to be done, Dublin champions Cuala showed no sentiment in crushing those of treble-chasing Slaughtneil of Derry in this All-Ireland Hurling Club Championship semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds in Armagh.
The 13 points winning margin was appropriate end evidence of Cuala’s all-round superiority. The citymen just far too slick in virtually every department, whilst also matching their opponents for physicality to book an All-Ireland final date with Ballyea of Clare in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day for what has the potential to be a tremendous showpiece.
For Slaughtneil, the fairytale quest for an unprecedented treble - with their footballers and camogie players already into All-Ireland finals - never got going here as Cuala, from early, took a tight grip on the game. That Slaughtneil ended up with 14 men, after a late red Cormac McKenna, only showed the utter frustration of chasing shadows for much of the hour.
To their credit, Slaughtneil - who trailed by 11 points, 1-13 to 0-5, at the interval - showed the spirit which got them this far by snatching two goals. But a fine team performance and moments of individual brilliance from Cuala ensured those “Cuala Ultras” in the large travelling support had plenty of occasion to raise their voices.
The first goal was a portent of what would follow. It came in the 11th minute and again demonstrated the artistry of full-forward Con O’Callaghan, who had dazzled through their successful provincial campaign. He was set-up by Seán Treacy but from receiving the pass to the end product it was all O’Callaghan as his quick feet enabled him to turn one way and then another before blasting into the top corner. Oisin O’Doherty didn’t have a prayer.
Slaughtneil hunted in packs. They put bodies and hurleys in the way of things. They kept going, but David Treacy’s freetaking invariably punished them and Colm Cronin, Mark Schutte, Jake Moran and Colum Sheanon - a late replacement for the injured Paul Schutte - showed their own point scoring abilities. The first 30 minutes finished with O’Callaghan again showing his class with two points inside a minute to close out the half.
If their task was an uphill one at half-time, Slaughtneil - from the foothills of the Sperrin mountains - found the terrain tougher within seconds of the resumption. With 44 seconds on the clock, David Treacy fed Cian Waldron who in turn fed Sean Treacy and he rattled the net for Cuala’s second goal. Now, it was 2-13 to 0-5. Hope for Slaughtneil had evaporated. Or had it?
Almost immediately, and after a messy battle for possession in the Cuala area, Ger Bradley goaled for the Derrymen. Referee Colm Lyons deliberated with his umpires on the legitimacy of the goal, querying whether the ball had been picked off the ground, but it stood. There was some hope. But not for long. Cuala’s response was immediate. Cronin tapped over a point. And then the hugely impressive Seán Moran launched a missile from 85 metres that split the posts.
McKenna’s dismissal actually spurred a rally of sorts, with Bradley and O’Doherty the main foragers for scores. Then, a second Slaughtneil goal - not one which Cuala goalkeeper Sean Brennan will want to remember as he sought to bring the ball down on his stick only for Sé McGuigan to bat it home - showed their willingness to chase a seemingly lost cause. Nine points adrift, could the dream be resurrected?
No, as it turned out. Mark Schutte did the hard work by winning possession, galloping towards the end line and then providing an adroit pass for substitute Nicky Kenny to fire home their third goal. End game, and Cuala’s dream very much alive in their quest to become the first Dublin side to claim the title.
CUALA: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O’Callaghan, S Timlin; S Moran (0-1), C Sheanon (0-1), J Sheanon; J Malone (0-1), D O’Connell; S Treacy (1-1), C Cronin (0-3), D Treacy (0-8, seven frees); C Waldron, Con O’Callaghan (1-3), M Schutte (0-1). Subs - N Kenny (1-1) for Waldron; .N Waldron (0-1) for D Treacy (58 mins), R Tierney for J Sheanon (60 mins), S Stapleton for S Treacy (60 mins).
SLAUHTNEIL - O O’Doherty; C McAllister, K McKaigue, P McNeill; S Cassidy, Shane McGuigan, M McGrath; E Cassidy, G Bradley (1-2); B Rogers (0-2), M McGuigan, C McKenna; Se McGuigan (1-0), C McKaigue (0-2), C O’Doherty (0-5).
Referee - C Lyons (Cork)