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Friday 28 April 2017

Real deal Cuala must keep focus to avoid any double Derry vision

Cuala’s Mark Schutte. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Cuala’s Mark Schutte. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Cuala’s top-scorer Con O’Callaghan. Photo: David Maher /Sportsfile

Most of you can't remember the last time a Dublin team reached this rarefied juncture in the race for All-Ireland club hurling glory. Many of you probably weren't even born.

For the record, it was April 1980 and Crumlin lost to Ballycastle McQuillans of Antrim by a thumping 3-9 to 0-8.

Thirty-seven years later, we finally have another Dublin standard-bearer in the AIB All-Ireland series. Once more, Ulster opposition stand in the way - those incredible dual-playing Duracell bunnies from Slaughtneil in Derry.

And guess what? Cuala are near-unbackable favourites.

There are several compelling reasons why the Dalkey men, even as All-Ireland greenhorns, are a short-priced 1/7.

More than half of their starting team are either Dublin regulars, panellists or recent members of the Sky Blue senior squad.

And that majority doesn't include Con O'Callaghan. A Dublin footballer by choice, his small ball prowess manifested itself in a quite stunning 6-10 haul from play during Cuala's three-match Leinster campaign.

Take it as read that Ger Cunningham would do anything to have O'Callaghan on board.

Yet Cuala's favouritism isn't predicated on inter-county personnel alone.

They possess a shrewd manager in Galway's Mattie Kenny, who has consistently coaxed the best from a group bursting with potential, not all of it previously tapped.

They also boast the invaluable experience that comes with back-to-back victorious Dublin campaigns and the heartbreak of failing to perform in the 2015 Leinster final against Oulart-The Ballagh.

When their second chance arrived, against O'Loughlin Gaels last December, they grabbed that game by the jugular and never let go.

Never mind Mark Schutte's garbage time goal - the nine-point margin didn't flatter them in the slightest.

And then began the long wait - rendered three weeks longer again by the postponement to facilitate Slaughtneil's dual All-Ireland mission.

Many of their opponents know what it takes to suppress Dublin favourites, having toppled St Vincent's a fortnight ago.

That result could be a blessing for Cuala, who must retain the tunnel vision focus so evident pre-Christmas and avoid any complacency traps.

Do that, and victory should be theirs.

ODDS: Cuala 1/7, Draw 12/1, Slaughtneil 11/2

VERDICT: Cuala

AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final: Cuala v Slaughtneil (Armagh, Today 3.0, live TG4)

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