Finals hit the mark

Intensity in Dublin SHC just as high without crowd: Gough

NO BACKING DOWN: Ballyboden’s Conal Keaney and Cuala’s Colum Sheanon exchange words before both were sent off during the Dublin SHC final on Sunday

Conor McKeon

If there is a single, incontrovertible truth to be derived from these novel club championships, it's that GAA players don't necessarily need spectators to produce games rich in quality and pulsing with intensity.

Cases in point: Semple Stadium and Parnell Park on Sunday.

In Thurles, the Loughmore-Castleiney players collapsed in a broken heap on the turf after an injury-time, extra-time, sucker punch of a goal gave Kildangan a first Tipperary SHC title at their expense.

In Donnycarney, Cuala celebrated their come-from-behind victory over Ballyboden St Enda's with as much vim as any of the other four county titles they've won since 2015.

That they had only themselves with whom to interact didn't detract in any way from the immediate post final-whistle emotions in either county.

Of wider significance for the GAA ahead of the inter-county restart next month was the games themselves.

On Sunday, the pace and quality of play and the intensity of the exchanges was in keeping, arguably even marginally higher, than county finals of recent vintage played in front of packed terraces.

"Ah it was an incredible match," reflected Oisín Gough, one of Cuala's defensive soldiers on Sunday.

"'Boden were excellent and they really pushed us. I don't think we went ahead until probably 10 minutes to go.

"So yeah, it's surreal playing without a crowd but the game took on a life of its own...I think and the intensity was just as high as it would normally be."

There was no cavalcade back to Dalkey afterwards. No cheering a team bus as it rolled into the club's grounds, trophy perched on the dashboard.

Instead, Cuala's post victory celebrations consisted of them happily changing in the stand in Parnell Park, gulping down recovery drinks before dispersing.

In the immediate aftermath of the win at least, that failed to detract from their sense of achievement.

"No, I think it's amazing to win any championship," Gough argued.

"We've been incredibly lucky over the years to have so much success. We'll relish this and we know that none of these come easy. It's incredible to win, regardless of the circumstances."

It helped that Cuala's win, like Kildangan's in Tipperary, came through a dramatic finale.

By contrast, Na Piarsaigh's 27-point Limerick SHC win over Doon demonstrated that not all county finals played behind locked gates make for compulsive viewing.

Cuala trailed Ballyboden by five points at one stage in the first half on Sunday and only got in front in the 50th minute.

"I think we've got a lot of experience in this side," Gough outlined, "so we know that we can just stick with it, stick with it, and we try not to panic even if we're behind.

"We just keep playing, keep playing, try to stick to our game plan and just work until the final whistle.

"We've been very lucky that that approach has come off for us in the last few games."

Really, the only disappointment for Cuala on Sunday was in knowing their 2020 journey ended there.

"Traditionally we have done well once we get out of Dublin," said Gough, referencing their back-to-back Leinster wins in 2016 and '18.

"Dublin has always been incredibly tough and we get into Leinster and we seem to kick on a bit. So yeah, it's disappointing but look, we'll take what we can get in the current circumstances.

"You don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth either."