Cuala hold off Na Piarsaigh in replay to retain All-Ireland crown
Defending champions give heroic display of determination to secure back-to-back titles
Paul Schutte lifts the trophy after Cuala’s All-Ireland win. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Cuala (Dublin) 2-17 Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 1-17
The best was yet to come. After bravely resisting defeat in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, Cuala this time fought tooth and nail to victory, defending their All-Ireland club hurling title with a finish worthy of true champions.
It took a properly heroic display of determination because Na Piarsaigh, the champions from two years ago, certainly made the Dublin club work for it - the game a suitably entertaining reprise after the sides ended up level in their 44-score shootout in the chilly wind of Croke Park last Saturday.
Two brilliant goals within 41 seconds of the second half - coming in the 39th minute - had them chanting Cuala in the stands, and seemingly left Na Piarsaigh with a mountain to climb. Six points up, it looked as if Cuala only had to hang on.
Substitute Nicky Kenny - replaced just before start by Paul Schutte - hit the first of them, making the most of some confusion in the Na Piarsaigh defence, latching on the loose ball and firing straight into the net.
Mark Schutte followed that up with a second, a few blinks of the eyelids later. Instead, Na Piarsaigh hit back straight with two points and then a goal of their own, David Breen tearing into the Cuala defence, on 50 minutes, and suddenly there was only one between them again, 2-12 to 1-14;
When Peter Casey equalised it was all to play for, and here is where Cuala stood up. A free from David Treacy levelled them again, before Shane Dowling hit back to put Na Piarsaigh a point up as the clock was about to spil into injury time, only for Con O’Callaghan to fire over a brilliant equaliser when Cuala needed him most.
With extra-time seemingly looming again, Cuala showed pure audacity to make three points in that time, two frees from Treacy - one brilliantly manufactured by O’Callaghan - before Mark Schutte fired over one more point at the death, shortly before the Cuala supporters spread themselves onto the field to meet their now two-time All-Ireland champions.
It was a much improved performance from Cuala, who twice came from behind to draw level last Saturday - firstly in normal time, then in added time. With this they become only the fifth club in history to win back-to-back club titles.
The first half hour was fiercely contested, end to end, tit for tat. In the bright evening sunshine Cuala only needed 15 seconds for Mark Schutte to open the scoring, setting the game tempo in process.
They were level three times in the first 15 minutes, Shane Dowling and Adrian Breen scoring first for Na Piarsaigh, before the defending champions moved it up another gear - points from David Treacy and Con O’Callaghan edging them in front.
For O’Callaghan, shackled and handcuffed by Mike Casey last week (nailing just a single point in injury time), there was a little more room this time: his opening point on 22 minutes was pure style, deftly fetched and then sent straight between the posts.
David Treacy missed a couple of frees after his 100 per cent record a week ago, but was still leading from the front - sending over two more frees late in the first to give Cuala a one-point cushion at half time, 0-10 to 0-9. Adrian Breen and then Kevin Downes hit the Na Piarsaigh scores to keep them in touch.
Cian O’Callaghan and Sean Moran stood up like pillars in the defence as the game closed out, making some inspired clearances.
Galway club Portumna were the last team to win back-to-back All-Ireland hurling titles, in 2008-09, although Cuala’s achievement might well surpass that: last year the Dalkey club became the first ever Dublin club to win the title outright, having also won their first ever Leinster title, all while still being considered the less fashionable area of Dublin hurling.
Con O’Callaghan, by way of brief footnote, now has an incredible 10th title within the last 12 months - not forgetting his All Star and young footballer of the year accolades.
Paul Schutte, back from injury, was a late addition to the Cuala starting 15, their captain dropping into the half-back line, taking up David Breen. He just about lasted until half time before pulling up injured again replaced by Shane Stapleton.
Overall a performance worthy of defending champions.
CUALA (Dublin): S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O’Callaghan, S Timilin; D O’Connell (0-1), S Moran, P Schutte; J Sheanon (0-1), J Malone (0-1); S Treacy, D Treacy (0-10, eight frees, one 65), C Cronin; C Sheanon, M Schutte (1-2), Con O’Callaghan (0-2). Subs: N Kenny (1-0) for C Sheanon (26 mins), S Stapleton for P Schutte (30 mins, inj).
NA PIARSAIGH (Limerick): P Kennedy; J Boylan (0-1), M Casey, N Buckley; A Dempsey, C King (capt), K Kennedy; S Dowling (0-6, five frees), W O’Donoghue; R Lynch, D Breen (1-0), D Dempsey; A Breen (0-5), K Downes (0-2), P Casey (0-2). Subs: T Grimes for M Casey (31 mins) C Boylan for Lynch (39 mins), G Brown (0-1) for Buckley (40 mins), M Foley for Buckley (59 mins)
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)