Cuala’s toughest test yet

by James Hendicott
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AS CUALA prepare for a fourth consecutive “biggest game in the club’s history” – and Friday’s is the very biggest – Cian O’Callaghan has recalled the Dalkey side’s tough journey to the St Patrick’s Day hurling finale.
Looking back, he spoke of the jealousy he felt towards local rivals Kilmacud Crokes when they travelled to Croke Park years ago for the football final.
Cuala’s All-Ireland final is a reflection of the startling progress at the club, and will represent a first ever appearance for a Dublin side for a St Patrick’s Day hurling contest.
Their opponents, Ballyea from County Clare, will also be appearing in the showcase for the very first time.
Having spent his school years at Colaiste Eoin, O’Callaghan had watched rivals Crokes disappear off for footballing contests during their 2008/09 win, and recalls: “All of my friends were going on these journeys throughout the country, heading off, just having the craic, brilliant days out.”
Now O’Callaghan’s little brother follows Cian and sibling Con around as part of the increasingly raucous Cuala ‘ultras’.
In a way, Croke Park will represent a homecoming for Cuala, who haven’t set foot in Dublin in a championship contest since they scraped past Crokes in the county final back in October.
O’Callaghan explained how tough the journey’s been: “There have been times when we really have had to dig our feet into the ground, to come up with tough answers and to ask hard questions,” he said.
“This is an incredibly hard competition to win. At inter-county level, you could possibly win four or five matches and you’d be the champions. Here, you have to come through Dublin and Leinster. You might have 15 matches behind you before you get to Croke Park.”
O’Callaghan also outlined what he’s expecting from the Clare side, anticipating “ferocious intensity and savage work-rate”.
“They are a team from one to 25 and obviously have a few match winners as well like Tony Kelly, Niall Deasy and Gary Brennan. They have come through a lot this year, especially in the Clare championship and against Thurles. They have won a lot of very close matches so they really are a battle-hardened team.”
Oddly, the two panels will feature brothers lining out on opposing sides. Niall Keane is a former Clare under-21 player who joined Cuala on relocating to Dublin last year, and will be glancing over at brother Aonghus on the Ballyea panel. Both, though, are unlikely to start.
Cuala know that for all their success in getting to Friday’s contest, they’re yet to face their truly defining moment.
For 60 minutes on St Patrick’s Day, they will have the chance to make their mark on the sport’s history, and bring a senior hurling title to the capital for the first time since Dublin won Liam McCarthy way back in 1938.

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