Cuala’s reign as Dublin, Leinster and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions came to an end on Sunday, after Kilmacud Crokes led from start to finish in this Dublin SHC semi-final at Parnell Park.
A strong start was key for Anthony Daly’s charges, in a game where Crokes led by nine points at the start of the final quarter, and despite scoring just one point from there until the finish, the Stillorgan men held out for a two-point win.
This was a high quality encounter played at a fast pace with Crokes starting well.
By the fifth minute, Dalo’s men were 1-1 to 0-0 in front – their opening score, the first of six points on the day from placed balls for Corkman Marc Howard.
Howard was one of those who caused huge problems for Cuala over the hour, and it was his misfired free which saw Oisín O’Rorke pounce for the opening goal, which handed his side a four-point lead.
At the opposite end Crokes were also pretty alert, with goalkeeper Matt Collins marshalling well.
Cuala’s opened their account with a David Treacy pointed free – one of six in the first half from the half-forward.
Scores were at a premium over the next few minutes, as both defences came to the fore, with a notable block by Cuala keeper Sean Brennan in the seventh minute, as he coped well with a goal hungry Crokes attack.
Brennan pulled off a full-length save, after a Sean McGrath effort.
Cuala pushed hard at the opposite end, but were forced wide on two occasions, as they got little change from the Crokes defence.
Crokes moved 1-3 to 0-1 ahead thanks to scores from Caolan Conway and Howard, before Con O’Callaghan opened Cuala’s account, after they had amazingly taken 15 minutes to get their first score.
O’Callaghan was kept relatively quiet over the hour, finishing with just three points from play, two in the second half.
Conway and Treacy swapped scores, before Treacy’s third point left a goal between the sides in the 18th minute.
However, Crokes reaffirmed their dominance with a second goal on 19 minutes, when Howard set up Ronan Hayes whose rasping shot gave his side a 2-4 to 0-4 lead.
Treacy kept Cuala ticking over, but with the likes of Lorcan McMullan and McGrath showing well from place, and Howard showing great accuracy from frees, Crokes took a 2-8 to 0-7 interval lead.
Worryingly for Cuala they only managed one-point from play in the opening half, and the signs looked ominous again for them when Damien Kelly completed Crokes hat-trick 30 seconds after the restart.
Cuala kept ticking over through Treacy and O’Callaghan, but with Crokes leading by nine points with 14 minutes left on the clock, it looked like the Champions were heading for an exit.
However, like the sign of true winners Cuala didn’t give up. A Sean Moran penalty goal cut the gap entering the final 10 minutes.
Less than 90 seconds later a second goal could have been produced, but Shane Murphy was denied by Collins, while the ever brilliant Bill O’Carroll made a subsequent one-handed clearance.
Cuala kept on the pressure, and made some inroads, with four points from play in a row, as Colm Cronin, O’Callaghan and Treacy (2) were on target.
Howard registered Crokes first score in 15 minutes, and although Cuala continued to press hard, O’Carroll once again got in for a vital block in the fourth minute of injury-time on an O’Callaghan effort to secure the win.
While Crokes have toppled one of the biggest forces nationally in recent years, they’ll be fully aware that no silverware has been annexed yet.
A tough test awaits them in a fortnight, if they are to make it third-time lucky in a final, having lost to Cuala in the decider in the past two years.
It’s a battle of the 2013 Champions against the 2014 winners, with Ballyboden St. Enda’s next up.