Defending champions Cuala primed for Leinster campaign
There are a couple of novelties in Parnell Park for tomorrow's AIB Leinster Club Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final. Firstly, both Dicksboro and Cuala have an Oisín Gough and Shane Stapleton in their ranks (spooky?) and secondly - and easily more pertinently - it is the first time a Dublin club have been favourites to beat a Kilkenny representative in this competition in recent verifiable memory.
Partly, that's because Dicksboro don't come from the same stock of habitual Marble County winners as, say, Ballyhale Shamrocks or their defeated opponents in Nowlan Park last Sunday, James Stephens. Thus, their ability and perhaps even their motivation to keep their winning ways going into deep winter is open to interpretation until such time as they demonstrate it. But mostly, it's because Cuala are All-Ireland champions and currently, don't look anything less. There have been little - if any - signs of decay since St Patrick's Day, even if they took a while to find their groove again. Certainly, the absence of Mark Schutte, a vital ball-winner if not always a prolific scorer for the club, will be felt here.
But it's not as though they don't still have a powerful and varied attack without him. In the semi-final, as Vincent's threatened to end Cuala's campaign, it was Colm Cronin who showed that the only thing better than scoring a run-and-one-handed-flicked goal just when required is scoring two of them in quick succession. Then, when the wind and Kilmacud Crokes' sweepers threatened to tangle Cuala up in knots in the final, it was Con O'Callaghan who exhibited his mastery of the basics of catch, turn and shoot to score three valuable points. Late on, as cool heads and dry palms were required, Mattie Kenny sent David Treacy back on to act as Cuala's 'closer', which he willingly and ably did. So Schutte will be a loss, no doubt. But Cuala's achievements can be equally attributed to skilful management and a thin spread of influence from all their players. Seán Moran, by way of topical example, has blossomed into a powerful, aerially dominant centre-back, first nationally demonstrated in the Athletic Grounds in February, when he ruled the airways against Slaughtneil.
And regardless of the number of inter-county quality players in Cuala's ranks, the truth is they have no immediately discernable weak point. No doubt, Dicksboro's county final performance was classy but so too was it porous. They scored four goals against 'The Village' but conceded four, too. Ollie Walsh provides much of their energy from the middle of the park while Cillian Buckley's attempts to curtail Cronin should go a fair way to deciding the early mood here. If the Dublin county final proved anything, it's that Cuala have the stomach for another fight and the enthusiasm to embark on another lengthy campaign. And that's all they needed to display to convince of their ability to go all the way through Leinster again. ODDS: Cuala 1/3, Draw 10/1, Dicksboro 13/5 VERDICT: Cuala