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Monday 22 October 2018

Will Cuala lift be enough for Gilroy's Dubs?

Roche’s Point

Powerhouse: Cuala’s Mark Schutte. Photo: Sportsfile
Powerhouse: Cuala’s Mark Schutte. Photo: Sportsfile

The clock read 1:11pm in Croke Park and Dublin hurling had rarely looked in such rude health. At least not at any time since 2013.

The previous evening in Portlaoise, Cuala had finished like an express train to edge their titanic two-game saga with Na Piarsaigh. For the first 46 renditions of the AIB All-Ireland club senior hurling championship, there had not been a solitary Dublin winner.

Now, after 48, Cuala were celebrating back-to-back - only the fifth club to achieve two-in-a-row history.

The metamorphosis of Dalkey from uber-posh stereotype to hurling stronghold was now complete. All that awaited was the influx of Mattie Kenny's finest to deliver a fresh adrenaline rush to Pat Gilroy's panel.

And then, even in their absence, after 11 spellbinding minutes, the Dubs led Tipperary by 0-10 to 0-2.

Surreal

There was something faintly surreal about Dublin's opening blitzkrieg. Croke Park was virtually deserted at that stage; it left you wondering if all those absent souls would even believe the latest Twitter updates from an Allianz Hurling League quarter-final billed in advance as a shoo-in win for the Premier.

It wasn't merely that Dublin couldn't miss - Fionntán Mac Gib's incredible point, under huge pressure from the Hogan Stand touchline, seemed to encapsulate their outrageous accuracy. It was that Dublin were winning individual battles all over the field, lording the Tipp puckout and bursting out in front of their man, time and again.

We can only surmise that Tipperary, collectively, had forgotten to put forward their clocks; they were still stuck in a midday moment of pre-match indolence.

And yet, almost as incredibly, they went from eight down to level by the 23rd minute, purely through the accumulation of points. And by half-time they led by four. And by full-time that gap has become an 11-point chasm.

There are double-digit defeats and double-digit defeats. In some respects, this one felt worse than the norm … because Dublin's flying start had counted for diddly-squat; because Tipperary had played the entire second half with 14 men and you'd never have guessed; because so many Tipp scores stemmed from careless turnovers; because Dublin's initially pumped-up intensity disappeared without second half trace; because we counted several late cameos where Dublin pumped long ball towards a two-man full-forward line outnumbered by three defenders.

A full-time audit confirmed that when you factor in seven injury-time minutes across both halves, Dublin had spent the last 66 minutes accumulating ten points, the same tally they had amassed inside the first 11.

So, was it a classic case of one step forward, two steps back for Dublin hurling?

Not quite: Cuala's two-in-a-row is not just a spectacular achievement in its own right but a massive long-term positive for the county. On the flip side, it may not translate into immediate benefits … the club's breakthrough All-Ireland didn't prove the 2017 catalyst that Ger Cunningham had craved.

Fatigue, mental more so than physical, could be an issue. It remains to be seen how many are now called by Gilroy; and how many answer the call. Remember how the Schutte brothers didn't return last April; how Mark subsequently joined Jim Gavin's football panel.

But Mark was a true powerhouse in Portlaoise and Gilroy's attack would be far stronger for his involvement.

Saturday also reaffirmed that several of these Cuala trailblazers - most notably Cian O'Callaghan, Seán Moran, Darragh O'Connell and David Treacy - can be hugely important cogs for county as well as club in 2018.

But that deflating last hour in Croker cannot be glossed over either. Even minus a couple of their standout forwards, here was a (belatedly) prolific demonstration of Tipp's All-Ireland credentials … and a sobering reminder that some of the rookies road-tested by Gilroy this spring aren't quite ready to mix it with them.

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