Treacy brothers lead Cuala into another final
Cuala 1-19 St Mullins 1-7
In the end, it was the kind of game you'd expect from club fare at this time of year where a clear favourite is expected to progress.
Cuala, the bookmakers' fancy, were examined thoroughly by St Mullins. The hosts were physical and organised and gutsy and they were peppered with some nice hurlers. They looked to pull at the edges of Cuala to see if they could make them unravel. But aside from the first quarter, the Dublin champions looked like they had the answers to whatever questions they'd be asked.
Afterwards there were no great scenes of celebration. Instead they warmed down on a desperately cold day as thoughts quickly turned to going one better than last year when they lost a Leinster decider.
Cuala were tipped to make it that far at least as the draw saw them avoid the likes of the Wexford and Kilkenny champions. But there was enough in their performance yesterday to suggest they might have improved in the last 12 months.
"This particular group now are together at senior level for the last two or three years," Cuala manager Mattie Kenny reflected afterwards. "They're getting used to one another's play. It's time for them to be getting experienced, I suppose. It's time for them to be improving.
"You're trying to become a more solid unit, rather than individual. That's what we're working on and, lookit, we're getting there slowly, piece by piece."
Cuala had eight different scorers on the day and despite hitting nine first-half wides, they led by 0-9 to 1-3 at the break.
St Mullins grabbed their goal after ten minutes to give themselves a two-point lead. John Murphy gathered Seamus Murphy's centre and he looked like he had been crowded out before somehow getting off a shot while on his knees. His effort rocketed past Sean Brennan in the Cuala goal.
However, the Dublin champions were starting to get to grips with things and through the promptings of the Treacy brothers, Sean and David, they began to assert their dominance. The Carlow men would score just two more points in the rest of the half.
"The first-half Mullins were very, very competitive," Kenny said. "There was nothing in the first ten minutes and then they got a goal, which really gave them the momentum. But our lads bounced back and scored some nice points and took a three-point lead into the dressing-room, so I was pretty happy with that because at one stage they had the momentum."
St Mullins landed the first score after the restart to keep their hopes well and truly alive and there were only three points between the sides before Cuala hit their purple patch. A sweeping move saw Mark Schutte feed Con O'Callaghan. The Dublin footballer let the ball bounce in front of him before unleashing a brilliant effort on goal which flashed past Kevin Kehoe and into the St Mullins' net.
Inside a minute of that goal, Darragh O'Connell floated over a point from near the sideline. Cuala were suddenly eight points up with one foot in the final.
St Mullins kept plugging away but found scores hard to come by despite the promptings of James Doyle and Marty Kavanagh. Jack Kavanagh was also leading the resistance with two second half points before picking up his second yellow card late in the day.
"I thought we were in a good position at half-time to be honest," St Mullins manager PJ Delaney said afterwards. "Maybe then their experience in the second half, they are used to being in Leinster this couple of years, just gave the a slight advantage, but look that's no consolation to us.
"We are totally devastated but there's nothing we can do about it now, we'll just go a lick our wounds for the next couple of months."
Cuala are back in another Leinster final and having beaten the Kilkenny champions in Clara last year, they'll take on O'Loughlin Gaels with some confidence.
"They're Kilkenny champions; they've form in the All-Ireland series before … they're going to be a serious challenge and we're not underestimating what's coming down the tracks," Kenny said. "We've just got to get over today, recover as best we can, and look forward to that Leinster final in two weeks' time."
SCORERS - Cuala: D Treacy 0-7 (5f); Con O'Callaghan 1-3; S Treacy 0-3; M Schutte 0-2; J Malone, D O'Connell, C Cronin, C Sheanon 0-1 each. St Mullins: J Doyle 0-3 (1f); J Murphy 1-0; M Kavanagh (1f), J Kavanagh 0-2 each.
Cuala: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, S Timlin; S Moran, P Schutte, J Sheanon; J Malone, D O'Connell; C Waldron, C Cronin, D Treacy; Con O'Callaghan, S Treacy. Subs: C Sheanon for Waldron (50), S Stapleton for Sheanan, R Tierney for S Treacy (both 57), N Carty for D Treacy, B Fitzgerald for Cronin (both 59).
St Mullins: K Kehoe; G Bennett, J Doran, P Doyle; D Whelan, P Kehoe, G Coady; J Kavanagh, M Walsh; J 'Minor' Murphy, S Murphy, J Murphy; M Kavanagh, J Walsh, J Doyle. Subs: C Kavanagh for J 'Minor' Murphy (ht), P Connors for Walsh (50).
Ref: P Burke (Kilkenny).