Equal disappointment and relief for Cuala and Na Piarsaigh
‘When you’re playing in an All-Ireland final, you’re expecting a result, one way or the other’
Players from both sides compete for the ball in Croke Park during Saturday’s draw. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
There’s nothing quite as anti-climactic as a drawn final and Saturday’s gripping AIB All-Ireland hurling showpiece at Croke Park underlined that. There is however always disappointment and relief in roughly equal measure and it didn’t take a genius to see how that was distributed.
Champions Cuala needed late frees in both normal and injury-time to avoid defeat whereas their predecessors and challengers Na Piarsaigh had been in apparent control for most of the 80 minutes.
“Absolutely, yeah; I actually thought we were the better side,” said their manager Shane O’Neill, “but look, it happens. We’ll just deal with it and drive on. When you’re playing in an All-Ireland final, you’re expecting a result, one way or the other. Obviously we’re delighted that we haven’t been beaten.
“I think Cuala got the last score in ordinary time with the goal from a penalty (20-metre free) and then the last score from a free in extra-time, I believe. As a management team we’re just absolutely delighted and so proud of the lads because it was a real, real battle from start to finish.”
Although Cuala will believe that they can improve, their opponents also have the consolation that their suspended pair of Conor Boylan and Peter Grimes will be available for the replay. Their presence was missed, as O’Neill introduced no replacements during normal time and the players’ return will strengthen the bench options.
It would have been a surprise had anyone said that Con O’Callaghan would be held scoreless over the hour - his single point coming in extra time - but Cuala would survive.
That’s how it played, though. Mike Casey marked the champions’ danger man effectively and they were forced to rely on placed balls. David Treacy had an immaculate 12 from 12 frees, including the ultimate equaliser hit into the teeth of the icy wind from 60 metres.
Earlier, amidst high drama in the fourth minute of injury-time, Cuala centre back Seán Moran, a busy afternoon already behind him, hit a 20-metre free to the net off goalkeeper Podge Kennedy’s raised stick to square the match at 1-16 each and send it to extra time.
Even manager Mattie Kenny admitted afterwards that he hadn’t been overwhelmed with confidence.
“What was going through my mind was, ‘this is the last puck of the game’. Harry Roberts (selector) was beside me and I said, ‘he needs to make this or it’s gone’. How could you have full confidence? The goal was lined. I was just hoping he’d get a good strike on it and that he did. I was more than pleased when I saw the net shaking.”
The Dublin club’s best phases came early in both halves, initially when their defence, with Paul Schutte sprung from the start on his return from injury, coped really well with the impressive Na Piarsaigh attack and broke quickly for some nice scores and a three-point lead and then in the third quarter when they overhauled a four-point deficit to reel off five unanswered scores - from Treacy, his brother Seán, who was excellent at centrefield, Jake Malone, Darragh O’Connell and Nicky Kenny to lead 0-14 to 1-10.
Na Piarsaigh appeared to find scores that bit more easily. The opening quarter’s jitters soothed, their forwards got to work. Kevin Downes, especially in the first half, Adrian Breen and Peter Casey were dangerous nearly every time they got on the ball.
Shane Dowling’s frees were mixed but he weighed in a couple of spectacular points from play and David Dempsey was their best forward in extra time. Their quality as an attack could be glimpsed in the well-timed goals: Peter Casey just after half-time when Cuala were trying to harness the wind in their favour and David Breen at the start of extra time.
Their problem was not driving home the advantage. Just before Moran’s late deliverance Dowling missed a free to put Na Piarsaigh four ahead and they couldn’t capitalise on the goals to move decisively ahead on the scoreboard.
Both sides await the outcome of Tuesday’s CCCC meeting to see when they bring this epic to its conclusion.
CUALA: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O’Callaghan, P Schutte (capt.); J Sheanon, S Moran (1-0, free), D O’Connell (0-1); C Sheanon (0-1), S Treacy (0-3); J Malone (0-1), C Cronin (0-1), D Treacy (0-12, all frees); N Kenny (0-1), Con O’Callaghan (0-1), M Schutte (0-1).
Subs: S Stapleton for J Sheanon (48 mins), N Carty for Kenny (53 mins), C Waldron for Malone (62 mins), N Kenny for Carty (extra time), J Malone for Waldron (extra time), S Timlin for S Treacy (66 mins), D O’Flynn for Cronin (69 mins), S Treacy for Kenny (75 mins).
NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; A Dempsey, M Casey, J Boylan; N Buckley, C King (capt.), K Kennedy; R Lynch, W O’Donoghue; S Dowling (0-6, four frees), D Breen (1-1), D Dempsey (0-2); A Breen (0-4), K Downes (0-4), P Casey (1-2).
Subs: M Foley for Buckley (71 mins), G Brown for Boylan (77 mins), K Ryan for Kennedy (80 mins).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)