Wednesday 24 May 2017

Cuala's Red Army travels north for Slaughtneil battle

A place in the All-Ireland club hurling final - and in history - awaits winners of big clash in Armagh

Cuala manager Mattie Kenny calms tempers during their Dublin SHC final Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Cuala manager Mattie Kenny calms tempers during their Dublin SHC final Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

What would Ross O'Carroll-Kelly think if he saw a red and white flag fluttering proudly over Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's headquarters?

The famous South Dublin fictional character, whose adventures are brought to life by the wit and invention of author Paul Howard would, no doubt, rear up in indignation.

"Focking cheek," he might observe. "A focking Munster flag? In Dún Laoghaire? Wait till I text Drico. He'll have something to say about that!"

But if the bould Ross was told it was actually not a rugby flag, but a Dalkey GAA club's banner hoisted high in the sky amid the sprawling density of prime rugby territory, he'd be apoplectic.

"Whaaaat? Focking stick-fighters? Burn them out and pack them back to the Nort Soide, or back to the bog, or wherever they crawled out of," he'd announce to the assembled multitudes as he reached for another pint of Heino.

But there we are. Cuala GAA club, on the brink of history, head north today, but not just across the Liffey.

Their version of the Red Army marches on Armagh for a date with destiny against Slaughtneil, another hurling team with their eyes on a huge prize - a place in the All-Ireland club hurling final on St Patrick's Day.

Cuala travel with the goodwill and hopes for success from their local support and membership which numbers around 1,600 men, women, and children, and of all the Dublin hurling fraternity.

The team manager, Mattie Kenny, a proud Galway man, is the central figure around whom the Cuala hurlers have enjoyed great success in 2015 and 2016.

Kenny guided the team to victory in the Dublin Championship for the first time in 21 years in '15, and to the Leinster final where they lost to Oulart-The Ballagh. Cuala went all the way once more in the 2016 county championship, defeating Kilmacud Crokes in the final, and then became the first Dublin team since Crumlin in 1980 to win a Leinster club hurling title.

O'Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny were the vanquished side and their manager Aidan Fogarty was suitably impressed.

"I think they can push on and win the All-Ireland. Their brand of hurling is open and fast. It makes them very hard to stop," he said after the final.

Slaughtneil are equally deserving of praise. Their footballers defeated mighty St Vincent's of Dublin in the club football semi-final and nine of that squad will be on hurling duty today against Cuala.

The Derry dual champions can become the first club in history to reach the All-Ireland final in both codes in the same year.

No wonder Mattie Kenny is not shouting the odds ahead of this intriguing encounter between two sets of highly-motivated players and management teams.

Kenny has called for tangible backing from the denizens of Dalkey and the surrounding areas in today's semi-final at the Athletic Grounds.

"We know the momentum that the opposition have, so we're expecting a massive battle on the day. We just want to make sure that we turn up and give a good account ourselves and put ourselves in a position to perform.

"We're hoping that everyone in Cuala, South Dublin, and everyone else in the Dublin area comes out and supports the team."

Cuala are backboned by Dublin hurlers Mark and Paul Schutte, David Treacy, Colm Cronin and Darragh O'Connell.

Dual player Con O'Callaghan, Cian's brother, opted for the county footballers but will not return to the big ball game until the club championship ends.

The Dalkey outfit will hope to avoid the fate of Crumlin, the last Dubs team to play in an All-Ireland club hurling semi-final.

Crumlin faced Ulster champions Ballycastle McQuillans in Croke Park on April 27, 1980.

They had qualified by defeating Camross of Laois in the provincial final at Athy on March 23.

Goals and the timing of them were vital in both matches.

Against Camross, Crumlin's Bernard O'Donovan raised a green flag within 90 seconds of the start of the game, and again 30 seconds after half-time.

Mick Reynolds got the other goal, and the Dubliners won by 3-5 to 0-11.

Just over a month later Ballycastle hit Crumlin with three goals and a point between the 49th and 53rd minute en route to a 3-9 to 0-8 victory.

Phelim Watson, Brian Donnelly and Eddie Donnelly scored the goals and Olcan Lavery the point in that period for the winners.

This will be another fascinating encounter and you have to wonder: will history be repeated with goals proving the key factor?

We will find out this afternoon.

Irish Independent

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