Con and Cuala crackle in brilliant Leinster win

by James Hendicott

CON O’Callaghan starred as Cuala won their first ever Leinster title, beating favourites O’Loughlin Gaels, from Kilkenny, in O’Moore Park on Sunday to end a 37-year drought for Dublin clubs in Leinster.
David Treacy was his usual reliable self from the frees – he scored 0-11, with 0-10 from placed balls – but it was O’Callaghan’s stint up front that stood out, as the dual-code man’s interplay with Colm Cronin proved O’Loughlin’s undoing. Cuala, though, sparkled throughout.
Much of the damage was done early on. The O’Callaghan-Cronin axis brought about the first goal with the latter finishing a fine O’Callaghan run to establish a lead that was never to tumble.
Mark Schutte played a key role as Cuala found the net for the second time after 22 minutes with O’Callaghan providing the final touch.
While O’Loughlin’s hung on within reach through a series of frees, Cuala looked by far the more threatening, going in at the break with a 2-8 to 0-9 lead that perhaps should have been more.
Treacy’s frees kept Cuala in charge as the Kilkenny champions enjoyed their best period after the break. They narrowed the gap several times as they found their range, though never came within a score, as they consistently found the Dalkey club able to re-establish a margin, with Treacy showing lethal accuracy from distance.
Indeed, it was Cuala who had the major sights on goal, seeing a couple of dramatic spells of pinball in front of the Gaels’ goal go unconverted.
Danny Loughnane briefly worried Cuala as he struck a goal in the final few minutes, with O’Loughlin’s left with little choice but to go all out and try and drag themselves back into the contest. As Cuala absorbed the late pressure, though, they never looked like slacking, and Mark Schutte’s goal in injury time finally put the tie conclusively to bed.
The 3-19 to 1-16 scoreline didn’t particularly flatter Cuala, who looked as sharp as they have all year and gloried in securing a title they missed out on a defeat to Wexford side Oulart-the-Ballagh this time last year.
There have been no less than 16 Kilkenny club hurling victories in Leinster since Crumlin last brought the title back to Dublin before Christmas in 1979. Dublin sides – including Cuala, twice – had lost seven finals in the same period, four of them to Kilkenny clubs.
Next on the agenda is a February 4 date with Derry’s Slaughtneil in their All-Ireland club semi-final.
And Cuala manager Mattie Kenny said it has been a superb show from the club to bounce back from Leinster final devastation to win the provincial crown.
“Last year was a great journey until the Leinster final,” he said after the final. “We came back this time with the aim of winning the Dublin championship and then to have another crack at Leinster. The novelty of getting to the final in 2015 was no longer a novelty. Every game had to be won and that brought its own pressure.
“To win it was a great relief and a great honour. It’s a privilege to be with these guys and win the Leinster championship.”
David Treacy, meanwhile, hailed the goals that kept Cuala out of range.
“The goals gave us a buffer and we managed to see it out towards the end,” he said.
“We had a five-point lead at the break and then at times had to sit deep to see it out. We knew O’Loughlin’s, like any other Kilkenny team, were going to come at us.
“They did, but we were able to keep tapping over the points. We weren’t forcing goals like we did in last year’s final against Oulart.”
Looking at the New Year, Cuala will hope they can get O’Callaghan available from the Dublin footballers for their All-Ireland push but, for now, they can revel in this huge achievement for the club.

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