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Tuesday 19 June 2018

Defence the key for Cuala victory in replay

Mattie Kenny's team capable of a more polished performance

TIGHT: Shane Dowling of Na Piarsaigh is stopped in his tracks by uala’s Paul Schutte
during last week’s drawn All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final at Croke Park. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
TIGHT: Shane Dowling of Na Piarsaigh is stopped in his tracks by uala’s Paul Schutte during last week’s drawn All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final at Croke Park. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Once more with feeling, then.

Fitting perhaps that these two great champions get another cut off each other, even if today's stage is hardly befitting the occasion and the participants.

O'Moore Park has a fine pitch but this sort of theatre deserves a Croke Park or Semple Stadium stage.

What toll last week's epic struggle took on the teams, we'll only discover this evening.

Right through that gripping 20 minutes of extra-time, bodies collapsed and cramp set in on both teams but it will be mental exhaustion that Mattie Kenny and Shane O'Neill are most vigilant of this week.

Which team is in the better frame of mind travelling to Portlaoise today is equally difficult to ascertain.

Na Piarsaigh were probably the better team over the 80 minutes last Saturday but couldn't put Cuala away, twice squandering winning positions.

They came away with gripes over the free count and probably their own goal-line setup for Seán Moran's injury-time equaliser while the Limerick champions also have Conor Boylan and Tommy Grimes back from suspension.

Even if neither start, they will provide depth to a squad that didn't make a substitution until the 10th minute of injury-time last week.

Test

For Cuala, the mind set is different.

They will be conscious of a greater level of under performance last week in what was their first real test in some time.

Their attacking inspiration, Con O'Callaghan, found it difficult to break free of Mike Casey's clutches. Mark Schutte only really got going in injury-time.

And a jewel-encrusted defence containing five Dublin seniors were all taken for at least two points from play by their men.

Which is where Cuala might make the most gains today.

They were at their most comfortable last Saturday in the early part of the second-half, when Na Piarsaigh dropped a man and Seán Moran was free to pluck balls out of the air, scoring five points in a row in that stretch.

But when Na Piarsaigh pushed six back up, Peter Casey, Peter Breen, Kevin Downes and David Dempsey all looked like they had the beating of their men if the ball came direct, quick and often enough.

Which is odd given the number of strong, skilful man markers Cuala have in their team and in the slightly condensed environs of Portlaoise today, Kenny will surely back his backs to be more adhesive and limit Na Piarsaigh's scoring from play.

The Limerick side are big and physical, too, but Cuala have never lacked in the confrontational stakes and the Dalkey team have more pace around the middle that they should be able to use to their advantage today.

It is unlikely, for instance, that O'Callaghan will have two such muted Saturday afternoons in a row.

Or that Schutte and David Treacy's scoring contributions from play (one point between them) will be so meagre.

All told, it seems as though Cuala have the greater scope for improvement this week than Na Piarsaigh do.

If they tighten up on their men, Kenny's team should be crowned All-Ireland champions again tonight in Portlaoise.

ODDS: Cuala 13/10, Draw 17/2, Na Piarsaigh 8/11

VERDICT: Cuala

  • AIB Club SHC Final Replay Cuala v Na Piarsaigh (Portlaoise, Today 5.30, Live TG4)

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