New generation of Cuala hurlers rising to the occasion

Schuttes, O’Callaghans and Treacys now bidding for historic All-Ireland club success

 Oisín Gough, David Treacy and Paul Schutte lift the trophy after Cuala’s  Leinster club final win over O’Loughlin Gaels at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Oisín Gough, David Treacy and Paul Schutte lift the trophy after Cuala’s Leinster club final win over O’Loughlin Gaels at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Given their doubly historic run to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day it could be the occasion might be lost on this generation of Cuala players. Or indeed the occasion might somehow get to them.

Not just the first Cuala team to win a Leinster club hurling title, but now the first Dublin club to contest an All-Ireland final – and therefore within an hour of landing another first there too. Friday’s showdown with Clare champions Ballyea is new territory on two premium levels.

What has helped get the Dalkey club this far, however, is that gently constant reminder of the previous generation of Cuala players, which runs so conspicuously throughout the team. Names like Schutte, Treacy, O’Callaghan. If anything, Friday in Croke Park represents the occasion to step out of their shadows for once and for all.

Paul Schutte said as much in the aftermath of their Leinster title victory back in December.

“It was more so beating the dads and uncles,” said Schutte, whose brother and Dublin team-mate Mark is also on the team. “They always held it over us, that they’ve won three championships when we done the back to back, but they never got a Leinster so that was a big one for us.” 

Most of that commentary was in jest, because there is no denying the influence of that previous generation; in winning those three Dublin championships inside six years – in 1989, 1991, and 1994 – they laid the foundation for the team that followed, in both name and spirit. 

Despite Cuala’s location in the still sprawling suburbs of south Dublin, and still some of the most expensive real estate in the country, the club has also managed to stay largely “local”. As Cuala chair Adrian Dunne also pointed out in the aftermath of their first Leinster title, of the 32 names on the match day programme, all but four were home-produced players coming up through the ranks. 

Small club

That’s why Friday’s occasion will be lost on none of them. 

“Yeah, traditionally, Cuala is quite a small club,” says O’Callaghan. “My father, the Schuttes’ father, the Treacys’ father, were all on the same team. 

“And I’d be cousins with the Sheanons (John and Colum), and their father was thereabouts. So you do have that link to the past, which is a big part of Cuala, and traditionally a hurling club, too. 

“So it’s exciting the second generation are coming through, trying to do what they did.” 

It’s also clear O’Callaghan found his love of the game thanks to his father, who would wittingly lure them down to training while he was still involved: “Yeah, he took the senior football team, we’d only go down because we got a Lucozade and a packet of crisps. That’s where we got out feel for the GAA and the club, and that’s what the club is about.” 

As for any fear the occasion might somehow get to them, O’Callaghan only has to make a quick reference to 2015: after finally bridging that gap to the previous generation by winning Cuala’s first Dublin title since 1994, they lost out Wexford champions Oulart-the-Ballagh in the Leinster final. 

After defending the Dublin title this year, the occasion of the Leinster final was magnified in the positive way. Cuala lost out in the 1989 final to Ballyhale Shamrocks but, 27 years later, the new generation got the better of Kilkenny champions O’Loughlin Gaels. 

“We felt like there was a lot of unfinished business there last year. Last year was slightly different, there wasn’t as much time management so in Dublin I think we won four matches in three weeks to win the Dublin championship last year. 

Complete bubble

“Now, since last year we’ve definitely come on as a team and I think that’s evident when you look at the team. At the start of the year, all we set out to do was win the Dublin championship, to go back and give ourselves the chance to write a few of those wrongs, from the 2015 Leinster final. 

“We were caught up in ourselves. We thought we’d so much momentum we wouldn’t even have to work for the final, possibly. This year, we decided we just have to work so hard, every match we play. And I think to this point we have. We just have to bring that same savage intensity for the final.” 

That was proven in their comprehensive semi-final win over Slaughtneil (3-21 to 2-11), and nothing about the Croke Park occasion should bother them unduly now either.

“We have six or seven lads who have been in with the Dublin hurlers and Con is in with the footballers. A lot of lads have played underage for the Dublin minors and they would have a bit of experience in Croke Park. There’s no better pitch in the country. It’s where you want to play so it’s a place you expect both teams to bring their ‘A’ game.” 

Paul Schutte has been passed fit for Friday’s final, sufficiently recovered from a broken finger, thus neatly and timely completing the occasion for three of Cuala’s stalwart families.

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