Ecstatic Dalkey Club Cuala took the All Ireland Club Hurling Title for the second consecutive year on Saturday, after a late-late show saw off the phenomenal challenge Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh.
Cuala twice saved themselves in the dying seconds the first time around on St Patrick’s Day, in a contest that truly looked lost at the end of normal time. A deflected free from Sean Moran nestled in the back of the Limerick club’s net to force extra time that day, and David Treacy snatched a replay with a final second point at the death.
It was two second half Cuala goals that had looked key this time around. Instead, Na Piarsaigh briefly pulled themselves back in front of the holders with two minutes to go, but Cuala hold their nerve.
The Limerick club were the early pacesetters in Portlaoise, grabbing a two point lead, before Cuala hit four in a row to lead by the same margin.
Treacy’s set-piece play was again critical in the early period, as Cuala drew plenty of frees from the opposition, and he added five first half placed points to the twelve he hit first time around. Adrian Breen was looking dangerous at the other end, however, and Na Piarsaigh narrowed the gap slightly at half time, with Cuala going in with the tightest of 0-10 to 0-9 leads.
Few would have bet against a second replay at half time, then. The game was very much about snatched opportunities and fiercely contested all over the pitch, with the scoring only reaching as high as it did due to the consistent finishing at both ends.
There wasn’t the same edginess to Cuala as a week earlier, however, and while their control was never close to complete, they always looked the slightly more likely of the two.
Cuala captain Paul Schutte had to be withdrawn injured over half time, however, and while Shane Stapleton proved an able replacement, Schutte’s loss could easily have been critical in the battle to repel Breen, who’d proven particularly effective for the Limerick club.
Critically, the Dalkey side had a perfect two minutes in them, eight minutes into the second half. A Nicky Kenny interception in the Na Piarsaigh defence saw him take maximum advantage, with Schutte adding a second almost straight afterwards, after he finished a winding solo run from close range to hand Cuala an extremely promising looking 2-11 to 0-11 lead.
Perhaps inevitably, Na Piarsaigh hit back with their strongest period of play. A smartly taken goal from David Breen and a period of sustained possession and sharp shooting had the Limerick club back in an unlikely single-point lead with a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Cuala had that vital final kick, and were not to be denied. Con O’Callaghan, a pair of David Treacy frees and a Mark Schutte point deep into stoppage time came from a period of critically-timed dominance, and finally put this final to bed, with the men in red running out 2-17 to 1-17 victors.
After one of the strongest and most compelling finales to the club championship in years, Cuala become only the eighth club side in GAA history to defend an All Ireland title, and the first in hurling since 2009.
They have a break of just three weeks before stepping into Dublin Championship action once again.