Cuala will have to go again as they seek a second consecutive All Ireland club hurling title against Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh, after twice pulling back deficits in the closing minutes of a fraught final on St Patrick’s Day.
They will be grateful for the chance. Cuala were three points down going into injury time at the end of the first 60 minutes, before Sean Moran blasted in an unlikely equalising goal from a deflected 20-metre free in normal time, before the ever-reliable David Treacy’s last-minute free won a replay in extra time, 1-22 to 2-19.
If you wanted a measure of the balance of play in the rough-and-tumble contest at Croke Park, which developed out into a physical battle towards the end, the reaction of the Cuala players at full time said it all.
While the disappointment for Na Piarsaigh was clear in their demeanor, Cuala congratulated each other at the final whistle, an air of mild-jubilation at having pulled off the unlikeliest of double great escapes
Na Piarsaigh were in search of a second All Ireland in three years themselves, of course, and are undoubtedly a quality team that will take some substantial breaking down second time around: they harry in defense to an intimidating extent, limiting chances, and take their own points efficiently up top.
These St Patrick’s Day contests have traditionally been one-sided affairs in recent years, and to have a battle like this between two teams of such obvious and close-matched class – is something to treasure.
Cuala didn’t have their best game on the 17th, which bodes well for their chances of stepping up second time around.
Con O’Callaghan, in particular, needs to find a little more space in amongst the blue wall. It’s likely that less frigid conditions would also assist an already outrageously high-quality contest.
To come out on top, Cuala need to face down the impressive controlled aggression from Na Piarsaigh, work out how to create a little more space, and maintain the scoring efficiency they showed at Croke Park. It’s probably fair to say they’re a little lucky to get a second shot: we’d fancy them to take it.
The replay is taking place this Saturday 24th March, in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise at 5.30. fro more information visit www.cualagaa.ie/category/tickets/