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Monday 21 May 2018

Cuala a step away from more glory

Cuala 3-17 St Martin's 0-15

Con O’Callaghan after scoring Cuala’s second goal during the AIB Leinster Club SHC semi-final against St Martin’s GAA Club at Parnell Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Con O’Callaghan after scoring Cuala’s second goal during the AIB Leinster Club SHC semi-final against St Martin’s GAA Club at Parnell Park. Photo: Sportsfile

The bookies had priced Cuala at 1/8 beforehand. The bookies were right.

By the final whistle, the gulf between champions and pretenders was accurately reflected in a margin of 11 points.

This AIB Leinster club SHC semi-final at Parnell Park lived up to the predicted pre-match billing in lots of ways.

St Martin's were young and fearless (to begin with) but they lacked the physical strength and more especially the big-match savvy to sustain it.

And Cuala were, well, Cuala. A team of such prolific talents that they can survive the injury-enforced absence of Mark Schutte, for a second game running, without batting an eyelid.

A team that followed up its towering 2-20 haul against Dicksboro, a fortnight ago, with an almost carbon-copy 3-17 against the Wexford champions.

Here's another similarity. Con O'Callaghan scored 1-3 from play. Again. And caused endless pandemonium besides - reflected in major assists for Cuala's first goal (Jake Malone in the 18th minute) and their third (Colm Cronin in the 49th), while drawing a brace of first-half saves from Luke White.

Whirlwind

Maybe it came as a blessed relief to St Martin's that Mattie Kenny withdrew his full-forward on 51 minutes, not long after he had plundered 0-3 from play in a whirlwind 90 seconds as a prologue to his Cronin assist.

But it didn't feel that way as the underdogs, having already surrendered the match, lost their discipline too.

Michael Codd received a straight red card for a strike on Seán Moran and then Jack O'Connor shipped a second yellow, cited for his over-zealous contribution to a throw-in ball. Thirteen men actually outscored Cuala by 0-5 to 0-3. Suffice to say, red mist wasn't the winning and losing of this game.

Cuala teammates (l-r) Paul Schutte, Oisín Gough and Seán Brennan after victory over St Martin’s at Parnell Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Cuala teammates (l-r) Paul Schutte, Oisín Gough and Seán Brennan after victory over St Martin’s at Parnell Park. Photo: Sportsfile

For Cuala, a third straight Leinster final beckons - against Kilcormac/Killoughey in Portlaoise on December 3.

The Offaly champions conquered Leinster in 2012 en route to reaching the All-Ireland final (where they lost to St Thomas' of Galway); just like Cuala, this will be their third provincial final in a relatively short window.

They also hammered Mount Leinster Rangers, the 2013 winners, by 17 points in yesterday's other semi-final.

Not surprisingly, Kenny sought to downplay their "three-in-a-row" achievement. "We've only won one," the Cuala boss reminded.

"We're looking forward to it in two weeks' time. Kilcormac-Killoughey are a very, very experienced side ... they are going to bring a huge, huge challenge to us."

Kenny was also expecting a "huge battle" from St Martin's and initially it panned out that way. With Joe Coleman providing the deadball inspiration en route to amassing 0-11 (comprising eight frees, one sumptuous sideline and two from play), they actually led by 0-5 to 0-3 after 16 minutes.

But O'Callaghan had already threatened, more than once, to expose their high-risk ploy of going without a sweeper. If you don't block the space in front of Con, you're asking for trouble. Once he gets the ball in hand, the red sirens start flashing.

Malone got the decisive strike for Cuala's first goal but it was all O'Callaghan's spadework. Then he started and finished the job for goal number two, less than a minute later.

Suddenly the All-Ireland champions led by five; it remained thus at the break (2-7 to 0-8) and then it got significantly worse for Martin's.

They weren't helped by the absence of their standout young talent, Rory O'Connor (torn knee cartilage) or full-back Patrick O'Connor (bulging back disc), who might have aided the cause of stifling Con.

Cuala's big Leinster final concern remains Schutte, who was sporting a protective 'moon boot' in Parnell.

"The specialist looked at him there during the week so they just advised him to leave the boot on for another week," his manager reported. "It's an ankle injury he's had since August. We tried to manage our way through but it's just not going away. I'd prefer to have him out playing, obviously."

His replacement, Nicky Kenny, excelled early on and finished with 0-3 - proof of Cuala's strength in depth.

"We're not making excuses - Cuala were very superior," conceded losing boss Tomás Codd. "Their team is more mature; you can see by their body conditioning that they are at least four to five seasons into gym programmes. We've only started really."

Cuala will hope they've only started too ...

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