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Saturday 14 December 2019

Stars are in the eyes of capital's hurling elite

Cuala and St Brigid's deservedly grab the headlines in 2019

St Vincents Conor Burke is caught by Craobh Chiarain's Gary Kelly during the Dublin Senior A Hurling Championship in Parnell Park.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 19/4/19
St Vincents Conor Burke is caught by Craobh Chiarain's Gary Kelly during the Dublin Senior A Hurling Championship in Parnell Park.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 19/4/19

Cuala have long become accustomed to featuring prominently when the awards are being handed out at the back end of a season and 2019 is no exception as seven of their players have been selected on the Dublin Bus/Herald Dubs Stars Hurling panel for this year.

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Dalkey outfit were struggling to make an impression among the elite of club hurling in the county, consistently falling short against their southside rivals in Kilmacud Crokes and Ballyboden St Enda's but few would argue with their prominent position at present, a testimony to the wonderful structures put in place and a focus on developing their nursery into such a vibrant and productive unit in terms of player development.

Naturally, there are other factors that have proved equally important in restoring Cuala to the status that they currently enjoy.

Players of the calibre of Cian O'Callaghan and younger brother Con don't come around too often and it's fair to say that former manager Mattie Kenny and current incumbent Willie Maher have been blessed to have the option of calling on such a talented duo.

Neither showed ill-effects of their prolonged absence from the game over the summer with Cian recovering from an injury received against Galway in the National League back in spring while Con was, of course, focussing on the big ball as he played such an integral part as Dublin claimed an historic five-in-a-row back in September.

That influence was not diminished in any way as he returned to action in club colours soon after, terrorising defences in a similar manner with his strength, agility and eye for a score, netting two goals against Kilmacud in their county quarter-final before adding five points from play as they cruised past St Vincent's in their last four encounter.

The younger O'Callaghan is joined in the forward line by club colleague Darragh O'Connell and with both Paul Ryan from Ballyboden St Enda's and Conor Burke of St Vincent's also received this accolade, there is an experienced fell to the starting attack.

While Ballyboden succumbed to Cuala in the Adult Hurling League Division 1 decider before being dethroned by St Vincent's in their thrilling quarter-final, Ryan could not be held responsible in any way as he maintained the lofty standards that led to him being awarded the Dubs Stars Hurler of the Year recognition twelve months ago.

Burke featured prominently in that Vinnies victory against St Enda's and while his team failed to sparkle in their subsequent semi-final against Cuala, Burke was a joy to behold that afternoon, rising above his team's general mediocrity to fire over five excellent points from play.

Consistency has been an issue for the Marino club for a prolonged period now but both Burke and team-mate Rian McBride could not be accused of a drop-off in standards and they are selected for the second year in succession.

Of course, it's only right that St Brigid's should feature so highly today given the substantial progress that they have made in the past twelve months.

STRAIGHT THROUGH: St Brigid’s Mark Kavanagh in action against Craobh Chiaráin during the Dublin SFC semi-final at Parnell Park. Photo: Sportsfile
STRAIGHT THROUGH: St Brigid’s Mark Kavanagh in action against Craobh Chiaráin during the Dublin SFC semi-final at Parnell Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Few would have anticipated the impression that the Blanchardstown outfit would make on this year's championship but they earned their final place on merit and delivered a courageous and skilful performance before eventually succumbing to the greater experience of Cuala.

All through the year, they showed the correct balance of defence and attack and any team managed by Johnny McGuirk were never going to be caught short in terms of attitude and organisation.

All through the year, they showed the correct balance of defence and attack and any team managed by Johnny McGuirk were never going to be caught short in terms of attitude and organisation.

People began to sit up and take notice of Brigid's when they posted no less than 1-30 in their final group game against St Jude's and they maintained that scoring threat when deservedly getting the better of Na Fianna in their last eight clash.

The form of Cian O'Sullivan and Eoghan Dunne up front made for compelling viewing but the team's natural class was not restricted to their forward play with the likes of Daire Plunkett, Andrew Dunphy, Donnacha Ryan and Mark Kavanagh equally cultured and composed in defence.

They required all those qualities in overcoming a Craobh Chiaráin side that also made a welcome return to the business end of the championship when progressing to the last four.

They delivered one of the displays of this year's championship when cruising past their rivals from across the Malahide Road, St Vincent's, back in April with Gary Kelly and Conor Ryan leading the way in terms of their security at the back and distribution from midfield respectively.

Their thrilling quarter-final victory against Lucan Sarsfields will live long in the memory as they traded goals at regular intervals and while Chris Crummey may have had the unaccustomed Number 11 on his back, he proved no less influential over the course of the year with some heroic displays from centre-forward and he is joined on this year's selection by wing-back John Bellew.

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