CUALA (DUBLIN) 2-19 BALLYEA (CLARE) 1-10
By John Harrington at Croke Park
Cuala created history in Croke Park today by becoming the first ever Dublin club to win the AIB GAA All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship.
It was a richly deserved victory too as they over-powered a game Ballyea team that simply couldn’t cope with their firepower.
The Dublin side dominated right down the spine of the field thanks to herculean performances from the likes of Cian O’Callaghan, Sean Moran, Darragh O’Connell, John Sheanon, Colm Cronin, and Con O’Callaghan.
That sextet in particular hurled with a potent combination of aggression, pace, and craft, that bodes very well for the general health of Dublin hurling.
Cuala’s performance was all the more impressive considering the greasy sod and spitting rain made playing conditions difficult.
It was a scrappy, hard-hitting contest in the early stages with forwards finding it difficult to turn quickly which played into the hands of the tight-marking defenders of both teams.
As the half progressed though Cuala gradually began to take control of the contest, thanks largely to the dominance of their half-backs and midfield.
The Dublin team had given regular wing-back John Sheanon the arduous task of man-marking Ballyea danger-man Tony Kelly, and the manner in which the dominated that tussle really set the tone for the contest.
His showing combined with some brilliant hurling from Darragh O’Connell alongside him in the Cuala midfield and the ball-winning ability of Colm Cronin meant the Ballyea defence was coming under increasing pressure.
The first significant blow of the game was struck on 15 minutes when that man Cronin scored a fine goal.
Cuala full-forward Con O’Callaghan broke a high ball right into the onrushing Cronin’s path, and the centre-forward drilled a brilliant finish to the right-hand corner of the net.
The initial response from Ballyea was impressive as Niall Deasy and James Murphy knocked over points to reduce the deficit to two, but Cuala then enjoyed their best spell of the game in the ten minutes before half-time as they hit four unanswered points.
Con O’Callaghan was becoming a more and more influential presence at the apex of their attack, and was very unlucky when a looping shot came off the cross-bar and back into play.
He got the score he had been long-threatening just before the half-time whistle when he slung over a beauty from the right-hand side to give Cuala a 1-7 to 0-4 lead.
Ballyea needed a fast start to the second-half and they nearly got it too when Pearse Lillis tore through on goal.
But just when it looked like he must hit the back of the net, Paul Schutte did brilliantly to get in a partial hook in that took the power out of the shot and made the save a lot easier for Cuala ‘keeper Sean Brennan.
Cuala supporters celebrating at Croke Park.
Cuala supporters celebrating at Croke Park.
That miss looked all the more costly when Cuala then scored the first three points of the match at the end, two frees from Treacy and another classy point from Con O’Callaghan.
It was starting to look grim for Ballyea who trailed now by nine, but points from Gary Brennan and Pearse Lillis briefly gave their supporters cause for hope.
The problem for the Clare team was that for all of their effort, Cuala remained dangerous at the other end of the field whenever they hit the ball in the direction of men like Cronin, O’Callaghan, and Treacy and by the 45th minute still held an eight-point lead, 1-12 to 0-8.
The match then entered a tit-for-tat phase with Treacy and Niall Deasy regularly exchanging pointed frees, which did little to aid Ballyea’s overall cause.
They badly needed a goal, and it finally came on the 50-minute mark when their two most dangerous forwards combined as Pearse Lillis picked out Deasy with an angled cross-field pass and the wing-forward smashed the ball to the back of the net.
Ballyea had the momentum they so badly craved, but it didn’t last long. Darragh O’Connell immediately responded with a fine point for Cuala after a jet-heeled run, and then a couple of minutes later they struck for their second-goal.
Con O’Callaghan did well again to win a hard ball before popping a perfect hand-pass to the onrushing Jake Malone who delivered an emphatic low finish to the net.
Cuala now led by 2-15 to 1-10, and Ballyea were faced with a mountain they simply couldn’t climb.
The remainder of the match was a Cuala procession that delighted their vocal supporters as they hit the final six points of the match.
It was the perfect exclamation mark for a hugely emphatic performance.
Scorers for Cuala: David Treacy 0-9 (8fs), Colm Cronin 1-1, Jake Malone 1-0, Con O’Callaghan 0-3, Darragh O’Connell 0-3, Colum Sheanon 0-2, John Sheanon 0-1, M Schutte 0-1.
Scorers for Ballyea: Niall Deasy 1-6 (6fs), Pearse Lillis 0-2, Gary Brennan 0-1, James Murphy 0-1.
CUALA: Sean Brennan; Simon Timlin, Cian O’Callaghan, Paul Schutte; Jake Malone, Sean Moran, Oisin Gough; John Sheanon, Darragh O’Connell; Sean Treachy, Colm Cronin, David Treacy; Cian Waldron, Con O’Callaghan, Mark Schutte.
Subs: Colum Sheanon for Cian Waldron (46), Ross Tierney for Simon Timlin (61), Nicky Kenny for Colm Cronin (60+3).
BALLYEA: Kevin Sheehan; Joe Neylon, Jack Browne, Brian Carrig; Gearóid O’Connell, Paul Flanagan, James Murphy; Tony Kelly, Stan Lineen; Niall Deasy, Gary Brennan, Cathal Doohan; Pat-Joe Connolly, Damien Burke, Pearse Lillis.
Subs: Martin O’Leary for PJ Connolly (37), David Egan for Damien Burke (39), Brian Murphy for Joe Neylon (55), Mark Coughlan for Stan Lineen (57).
REFEREE: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).