Champs Cuala show their mettle
Cuala 3-14 St Brigid's 2-15
Reigning champions Cuala kept their ambitions of a third successive county title alive with a hard-earned two point victory over St Brigid's in their absorbing Dublin SHC quarter-final at O'Toole Park yesterday afternoon.
It was on occasions like yesterday that you clearly notice the benefit and confidence that Cuala's recent Dublin, Leinster and All-Ireland successes has given them in terms of finding a away to get the required result without playing to their best and for that alone, St Brigid's deserve massive praise for the manner in which they placed the holders under concerted pressure for the bulk of the 71 minutes of hurling played.
Crucially, their efforts began to have an energy-sapping effect in the critical closing ten minutes and Cuala eventually took advantage of an overlap to place Seán Treacy through for the match-defining score two minutes into injury-time.
St Brigid's still managed to strike back through a Aodhán McInerney goal three minutes later but their stirring efforts were ultimately to prove in vain in a contest that ebbed and flowed from the first whistle.
If the Blanchardstown club were to succeed on that day, a bright start was essential and they duly delivered on that ambition as Cian O'Sullivan coolly flicked home past Seán Brennan after an excellent run from deep by Eoghan Dunne in the sixth minute.
By this time, one sensed this would not be the most straightforward of fixtures for the holders and three minutes later, both John Sheanon (Cuala) and Paul Winters (St Brigid's) were dismissed after an off-the-ball altercation.
Two points from play helped a stuttering Cuala gain a degree of stability in the match and they were far more settled in the 18th minute as Con O'Callaghan, making his first start ever in a Dublin SHC match (he has started in Leinster and All-Ireland Series games), rolled Donnacha Ryan before firing emphatically past Alan Nolan.
Matters deteriorated for Brigid's eight minutes later as O'Callaghan gathered at the second opportunity and an equally emphatic finish beyond the helpless Nolan was the result.
Those scores failed to undermine the confidence with which St Brigid's were performing and three points in quick succession, two by the excellent O'Sullivan, trimmed their deficit to one point (2-6 to 1-8 by the interval). Cuala were buoyed by the introduction of Darragh O'Connell for the second-half and he made an instant impression with a point within 30 seconds of the restart.
With Seán Moran imperious in a sweeping role, Cuala began to control matters but spurned presentable chances in the form of Mark Schutte's wide in the 36th minute while David Treacy saw his 39th minute penalty superbly repelled by a diving Nolan.
That intervention helped galvanise his team with O'Sullivan and Johnny McGuirk scoring in quick succession to leave Brigid's on the verge of a shock result.
However, with Moran driving his team forward incessantly, the Brigid's defending became a touch looser as David Treacy and Jake Malone ensured parity by the 56th minute.
Another David Treacy free preceded that goal for his brother Seán after a well-worked move down the right flank, handing his team sufficient breathing space to ensure that their hopes of a three-in-a-row remain within sight for now at least.