Cuala primed to take next step in Leinster defence
Leinster Club SHC semi-final Cuala (Dublin) v St Martin's (Wexford) (Parnell Park, Tomorrow 2.0)
St Martin's mustn't know themselves. After an epic schedule of dual commitments, the Wexford champions have enjoyed a three-week lead-in to prepare for tomorrow's AIB Leinster club SHC semi-final. They'll have needed every day ...
It's easy to see why Cuala are warm favourites even if their 1/8 odds might be stretching the boundaries of what's likely to happen at Parnell Park (2.0, deferred coverage on TG4 3.35).
Dublin's finest are not alone All-Ireland champions but holders showing no hint of battle fatigue. Just ask Kilkenny's Dicksboro, who couldn't live with them a fortnight ago.
Cuala are also at home - no small consideration given the record of Dublin hurling teams in their Donnycarney citadel.
And then, of course, there's the unresolved conundrum: how ready are St Martin's for the provincial step-up?
They are a young team, laden with sprightly talent, especially in a forward division where long-serving Wexford footballer, 31-year-old Ciarán Lyng, qualifies as the only veteran.
As it happens, Lyng's goal late in the first half of their Wexford final against Oulart-The Ballagh had a transformational impact ... having trailed by five points at one stage, they overwhelmed Oulart and ran out ten-point winners to claim their first SHC title in nine years.
But Lyng's dual exploits underline Martin's dilemma - a familiar crux to that faced by one or two in-demand Cuala players but on a far greater scale.
Of their county hurling final 15, we count 11 who also started the football final a week later while a 12th came off the bench. The crossover extends further when you factor in subs.
As manager Tomás Codd revealed after beating Oulart: "Probably 15 or 16 of the panel are U21s, so ten of the team will have played 20 games in 14 weeks." And all this activity has come at a cost.
Rory O'Connor promises to be one of the great stars of Wexford hurling over the next decade, having already sparkled in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh last July when parachuted into Davy Fitzgerald's starting team for their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Waterford.
But the 19-year-old played against Oulart with a heavily bandaged knee. He still exerted a profound influence, creating Lyng's goal and scoring 0-5 (4f) himself. Yet a week later, he laboured in the football decider and was taken off as Starlights emphatically scuppered their dreams of the double.
O'Connor has been playing through the pain barrier, with local reports suggesting a period of rest is required ... but you'll also hear conflicting messages about whether Rory and his cousin Patrick O'Connor (bulging back disc) will feature against Cuala.
Mattie Kenny has his own selection concerns - Mark Schutte didn't tog out against Dicksboro because of a "lingering" ankle injury. It's understood Schutte may be again named on the match programme but whether he starts is another question.
Nicky Kenny proved a lively deputy against Dicksboro, chipping in with 0-2 from play, and could well be called upon again.
Still, the overall performance against the Kilkenny champions was encouraging for anyone starting to doubt Cuala's capacity to go back-to-back in Leinster, whatever about beyond.
The hurling was far less attritional than it had been in the Dublin final against Kilmacud, and the Dalkey men thrived in the relative freedom. Seán Moran and Paul Schutte took it in turns to dominate in defence; Darragh O'Connell lorded midfield while scores flowed from a variety of sources ... cue a tally, 2-20, rarely seen in November.
No one did more damage than a certain Con O'Callaghan. St Martin's have some notable defenders (Páidí Kelly and county footballer Dáithí Waters excelled in the half-backs against Oulart; corner-back Willie Devereux is a Wexford regular) ... but have they anyone capable of catching Con?
Odds: Cuala 1/8 Draw 12/1 Martin's 11/2