Saturday 29 April 2017

How hurling became a hit in Bono country - Cuala looking to create history

Cuala supporters and players celebrate at the end of their semi-final victory over Slaughtneil. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Cuala supporters and players celebrate at the end of their semi-final victory over Slaughtneil. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The last time Cuala chairman Adrian Dunne checked there were no red and white flags flying from the gateways of houses on the Vico or Sorrento Roads, two of the most exclusive addresses in the country that nestle deep within the club's vast catchment area.

"Maybe we'll stick a few up there," laughs Dunne at the thought of flags outside the homes of the likes of Bono. "That's if we had any left," he quickly counters.

The trade in flags has been heavy and the bobble hats that have become the staple diet for final-bound clubs have flown out the door too, another 500 last week on top of 1,000 already gone.

On Tuesday night a second specially commissioned DART, taking supporters direct from Dalkey to Connolly Station, sold out in just 20 minutes.

The logistics of getting over 2,000 supporters onto two trains within a 10-minute window around 1.0 later today is one of the many challenges they face.

"First world problems," acknowledges Dunne. A micro-task by comparison to the macro-effort of Gaelic games evangelism in an area that has always had a heavy rugby hue.

Ballyea’s Tony Kelly (right) and Cian O’Callaghan from Cuala who will both be hoping to lift
the trophy at Croke Park today. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ballyea’s Tony Kelly (right) and Cian O’Callaghan from Cuala who will both be hoping to lift the trophy at Croke Park today. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cuala may be the first Dublin team to reach an All-Ireland hurling club final, and their footballers may not be far off a breakthrough in the capital either, given the duality of so many of their hurlers and the provision of so much underage talent, but in terms of penetration GAA is only "scratching the surface", according to Dunne.

Impression

"If you take the area between the N11 and the coast and go from Ringsend to Bray there are only two GAA clubs, ourselves and Clan na Gael. Some of the biggest rugby schools are on our doorstep - Blackrock College and CBC Monkstown - though we're making an impression in Monkstown.

"How many people are living between the N11 and the sea, Ringsend to Bray? The GAA would love nothing better, and they said it, than to establish a brand new club in Cherrywood, where there are 10,000 houses.

"But they're are not willing to throw up €2m to set up a new club. If you didn't have €2m in the bank you wouldn't be setting up a new club."

Room for another Castleknock potentially, Dunne suggests.

"If Carslberg did clubs! Castleknock is your ideal situation. All those houses built 20 years ago, many of the people building them are from down the country and all have GAA backgrounds, brought up with the GAA ethos. All those kids from 20 years ago are now playing adult football. They have plenty of land and scope for pitches and development."

Which takes him to a fundamental issue that Cuala has had: the absence of their own playing facilities.

They may cater for the most affluent neighbourhoods in the environs of the city but with that comes inflated land prices that have, so far, been out of their reach. And that's only the rare, small parcels that have become available.

Thus, they are dependent on five municipal pitches provided by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council that come with restrictions.

The Council adopts a multi-sport policy for its sports facilities which leads to a reluctance to allow block booking of multiple pitches, side-by-side, to any one sport or club.

So underage academies and training on a Saturday morning are scattered to different locations, increasing the logistics involved in 'drop-offs' for parents. Training is also, technically, prohibited.

With a catchment area that runs from Blackrock through Deansgrange, Monkstown and Dun Laoghaire and out to Killiney before reaching down to Ballybrack and Shankill it's one of the biggest, in terms of square miles, that any Dublin club serves and their recent success has helped them to sustain the N11 almost as a rampart to their hinterland.

"The clubhouse is in Dalkey but in terms of members we wouldn't have many from there because, who can afford to live in Dalkey?" explains Dunne.

"You have very few young kids in Dalkey, but we'd have a lot of members from the Monkstown area with all the kids in Scoil Lorcain, where Colman O'Drisceoil (a link to the 1988 and '91 Dublin championship winning teams) is principal. That's the natural link there, so that's pushing it right out to near enough Blackrock.

"We're stretched out all over the place. It's not like a community because everyone is so spread out. There are or five different centres. The only time you might get them all is at a funeral. Or after a match.

"In fairness to Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown they have enough land left for the whole area to put in another eight pitches in the next 100 years. Their hands are tied trying to find a bit of land anywhere."

Without floodlights at any of the council properties, Cuala have had to move out of the city entirely to prepare for this All-Ireland club final, as they do with all their winter/early spring training.

On Wednesday night they put the finishing touches to preparations, under the guidance of former Galway selector Mattie Kenny and his sidekick Greg Kennedy, at the grounds of Bray Emmetts GAA club.

"The senior hurlers are effectively based in Bray. Go out there on a Tuesday night and we could have three adult football teams, senior hurlers, minors and camogie could be out there," says Dunne.

"Bray is really our training base for all adult teams."

Their nomadic ways have driven up the bills. Dunne estimates that the cost of an All-Ireland club final appearance, incorporating the year-long cycle involved ,will rest at around €100,000. Rent alone will be in excess of €30,000.

"To hire a pitch it's €150 per night. Hire a bus and go down the country for a challenge, then feed fellas afterwards and you're talking between €1,500 and €2,000.

"That's before you start again in a few days. The lads have a league match next week. But what club wouldn't like to have those problems? In fairness, they're able to fund it themselves. They have the profile."

Despite their infrastructural challenges, Cuala have been bedded down a long time in the area.

A sustained coaching initiative, under the direction of another former player, Damien Byrne, who also featured for Dublin, has reaped dividends after a long fallow period following the end of their previous golden generation.

And as they've grown to a membership of in excess of 1,600 it's those tight-knit connections that have manifested in the links between the current team and their predecessors who won championships between 1989 and 1994 that really bind the club.

Cian and Con O'Callaghan are sons of Maurice and cousins of the Sheanons; Mark and Paul Schutte are sons of Karl and David; and Sean Treacy are sons of John, all established hurlers on that breakthrough team. In that respect they don't see themselves a 'super' club despite their wealth of teams.

"I think that 26 out of the 30 named for the Leinster final were home-grown players. When we won a championship in 1989, half of the team was from Wexford!" says Dunne.

For Dunne, and the club in general, there has been poignancy this week after the passing of his father and renowned club stalwart, Peter, who managed the football team when they won an intermediate title in Dublin in 1981 and reached a senior final in '88.

His health had been in decline for a year and he suffered a heart attack in the middle of last week.

"This was a dream for so many that aren't with us, the likes of Tom Holden, Fergus Tierney, Mick Dunphy, my father, John Hennessy fellas like that who dreamed," says Dunne. "They dared to dream and if we win, that dream will be realised."

Irish Independent

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