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Saturday 18 November 2017

Cuala finding winning habit hard to shake

Cuala 1-13 Kilmacud Crokes 0-13

Cuala players celebrate their Dublin SHC final victory over Kilmacud Crokes in Parnell Park last Saturday afternoon. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Cuala players celebrate their Dublin SHC final victory over Kilmacud Crokes in Parnell Park last Saturday afternoon. Picture: Caroline Quinn

When they won that breakthrough All-Ireland club title back in March, Paul Schutte observed that the toughest matches Cuala had played in their collection of county, provincial and national trophies were against Ballyboden St Enda's and Kilmacud Crokes in the hardly fashionable Dublin SHC.

Whatever the rest of the year holds for Mattie Kenny's team now, they may look back on Saturday's county final with much the same sentiment.

Three points was their winning cushion but with one in it and enough injury-time left in theory for at least two scores, nothing about their third Dublin SHC final win in-a-row suggested comfort.

As great champions tend to, they got both of the scores, proving once again that winning can be a both a habit and a hard one to shake.

"These games come in different sorts and colours and you've got to win them any way they can," Kenny pointed out.

If their St Patrick's Day exhibition against Clare's Ballyea was peak Cuala in all its unrestrained glory, this was from the grittier end of the performance spectrum.

It was no less compelling, however.

Kilmacud Crokes flung everything in Cuala's direction and it was almost enough but like St Brigid's and St Vincent's before them, found that Kenny's team just have a knack of winning.

As Kenny surmised: "Everything at this time of the year is such a battle."

Cuala found all the necessary components fully functioning.

Seán Moran has steadily grown into one of Dublin club hurling's most impressive performers and Saturday added to his stock, all high catches and hard hits.

Con O'Callaghan, that serial winner, showed that despite popular consensus, hurling isn't that hard to pick up after a time away if you're talented enough.Darragh O'Connell and Colm Cronin were more restricted in their rapid movements here but all of Cuala's leaders stood up.

Paul Schutte and David Treacy, more than most.

Treacy has definitely had less involved afternoons. Saturday wasn't, perhaps, his finest day in a Cuala jersey but certainly one of his most prominent.

In the 38th minute of a game where the stiff wind made little discernible difference and with the sides level after Crokes drew the match with two Oisín O'Rorke frees, Mark Schutte pulled a long, high Colm Cronin ball down from the air around the Crokes square.

Of equal force was the pull Niall Corcoran had on his former Dublin team-mate and Cuala were awarded a penalty.

Up stepped David Treacy.

It wasn't his sweetest strike but Eoin Dalton made an excellent save to his left all the same and from the resultant '65', Treacy inched his club back into the lead.

A minute later, he misled the Cuala crowd into the biggest cheer of the day.

Treacy drove a goal chance towards the same corner but into the side-netting and the sliotar nestled in such a way as to make everyone in the stand in Parnell Park believe he had scored a goal.

"I completely fluffed the penalty and it was a good save for a '65'. I tried to hit it too hard then for the goal chance to make up for it," said Treacy afterwards.

Unusually, his day looked like it might end before the game's conclusion

Treacy was substituted in the 58th minute with Crokes still not beaten but not quite penetrating either.

Four points against Cuala's one, shared between Ross O'Carroll, Fergal Whitely and O'Rorke (two) dragged Ollie Baker's Kilmacud back to within a single point as the sideline official raised his electronic scoreboard in announcement of four minutes of injury-time.

This, bear in mind, is the same Cuala team that were level with St Brigid's late on in their quarter-final and in a similar position against St Vincent's in last weekend's semi-final.

Yet they had no similar late surge here.

Eventually, they won a free for a tackle on Colm Cronin and manager Mattie Kenny turned to Treacy, who had been taken off just four minutes earlier.

Cometh the hour, etc.

"Yeah the lads were saying I should have a break in every half, just to chill out and have a couple of minute to collect myself," he joked after not just nailing the free, but instinctively poaching Cuala's insurance point too. "I couldn't even watch the match. There was only a couple of points in it.

Blame

"Then you're thinking - and it's a selfish way to think - 'Jesus, if they get a goal here, I'm taking the blame'.

"But luckily I got a chance. I was brought back on to knock the free and then when Crokes piled forward, I was there to tap the last one over."

It was tough on Crokes who were appearing in their fourth final in six years and have now pushed Cuala close to the point of distraction in succesive Dublin deciders.

"Hats off to our lads," said their manager, former Clare power-house Ollie Baker afterwards.

"We went in at half-time with the advantage of the breeze and it didn't work out for us in the first half.

"We went in on the opposite end of the scoreboard. And I think maybe we put an awful lot of work into trying to get that scoreboard back to equal and we never managed to get ahead.

"That was a huge thing for Cuala. They could hit us on the break then. And they got their scores a bit easier in the second half."

And they found a way to score at the most important times of the match.

"This is our third Championship final as a team in-a-row so we're starting to understand the ebb and flow of a match," as Treacy explained.

"I think what stood to us - especially against Brigid's in the quarters - is that we're able to see it out.

"Especially if we stick to the game-plan.

"We know that if we do that, we will get those opportunities. There's a trust among the squad. We've been on the road for three Championships in-a-row now so that trust is there."

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