Cuala (Dublin) 3-17 St. Martin's 0-15
It has been a wonderful year of progress for the St. Martin's Senior hurlers, but they still have quite a distance to travel in their quest to join the elite performers on the club scene.
That much was patently obvious in Parnell Park, Donnycarney, on Sunday when reigning AIB All-Ireland champions Cuala dished out an eleven-point hammering to the outclassed Wexford winners and secured a third successive provincial final spot in the process.
It was a chastening experience for St. Martin's, and they didn't do themselves any favours in a two-minute spell during the last quarter when they were reduced to 13 men.
The Dalkey club had victory in the bag at that stage and it made no difference to the final result, but it was still disappointing to exit on such a negative note as substitute Michael Codd was dismissed on a straight red card before Jack O'Connor collected a second yellow.
On a day when the name on everyone's lips, Con O'Callaghan, electrified the northside venue every time he gained possession, there can be no denying that the loss of St. Martin's own star attacker, Rory O'Connor, was an incredibly big blow.
Then again, Cuala stalwart Mark Schutte didn't line out for the second Leinster game running either, but his team was even more dominant than in their 2-20 to 1-16 quarter-final dismissal of Kilkenny champions Dicksboro.
With St. Martin's also missing full-back Patrick O'Connor owing to injury, a lot of the pre-match speculation centred on who would be given the onerous task of trying to keep tabs on Con O'Callaghan.
He lined out in the right corner-forward berth at the start of both halves, but quickly drifted into a more central role as part of a two-man inside line along with Kilkenny native Nicky Kenny.
David Treacy, the nominal left corner-forward, drifted outfield to leave as much space as possible to exploit inside, with Willie Devereux following him initially.
Young Conor Firman was placed on O'Callaghan, with Paudie Kelly marking Kenny, and it was somewhat surprising that St. Martin's didn't opt to put another defender directly in front of Cuala's dual star given his prowess.
And after O'Callaghan created the first goal and added the second, Devereux was moved on to him in the 19th minute but was powerless to prevent a 90-second masterclass at the start of the last quarter when the All-Ireland winning Dublin footballer hit three glorious points in quick succession.
O'Callaghan was withdrawn in the 51st minute with his side 13 points clear and all of the hard work done, and it's hard to see how Kilcormac-Killoughey will be able to deal with the huge threat he poses in the final on December 3.
St. Martin's brought in Barry O'Connor and Joe Coleman for their injured duo, and one of the few bright aspects of their performance was the impressive accuracy of the latter who hit double figures with an eleven-point haul, including two from play and one neat line ball.
Ciarán Lyng won the toss for the visitors, and their best hurling was undoubtedly produced in the opening quarter as they matched their rivals and earned a series of frees for Coleman to convert.
Unfortunately, the first two Cuala goals in the 18th and 19th minutes completely knocked the stuffing out of their challenge, and from that point on it was simply a case of what the Dubs would win by.
St. Martin's actually dodged a bullet in the second minute when Con O'Callaghan embarked on the first of his surging runs and had a shot saved, with Jake Malone following up to send the rebound to the net. Referee David Hughes awarded a free out after consulting his umpires, but it was only a temporary respite as that green flag was waved twice at the start of the second quarter.
Oisín Gough moved on to Ciarán Lyng immediately, while Joe Coleman and Joe O'Connor swapped places in the Martin's attack shortly after throw-in.
Coleman had spent a lot of time pre-game finding his range from frees, and the practice paid off when he converted a brace in the fifth and sixth minutes to give his side a bright start.
The menacing O'Callaghan threatened again midway through the opening quarter, but Paudie Kelly swept the ball clear from his own square.
A chop on Paul Schutte led to Cuala's first point from a David Treacy free, and the scorer's line ball from the right was then caught and fired over by Nicky Kenny for the leveller.
A foul on Jack O'Connor was punished by Joe Coleman as St. Martin's regained the lead in the 13th minute, but Kenny equalised once more before the big number 17 continued his one-man scoring show at the church end.
A foul by Gough on Lyng led to Coleman's fourth, and the county footballer then fed a short pass to Coleman who knocked it over directly off his hurl despite being under heavy pressure which forced him crossfield (0-5 to 0-3).
For a team appearing in Leinster for the first time in nine years, it was about as good a start as anyone could have wished for, but it all went pear-shaped at the start of the second quarter.
Con O'Callaghan set up Colum Sheanon for a point before those two goals arrived in the space of just 45 seconds.
Seán Moran fired a free into the left corner for O'Callaghan who soloed goalwards before being bottled up, but Jake Malone was following up again and there was no foul committed this time as his pull beat Luke White for a 1-4 to 0-5 lead.
Daithí Waters seemed well placed to deal with the next Cuala clearance, but he couldn't control the ball and that was the only invitation needed by O'Callaghan who was lurking behind him on the left wing.
He turned and bombed his way towards goal before batting the sliothar to the net to ensure he wouldn't be hooked, with Conor Firman earning a yellow card for his despairing challenge.
Willie Devereux moved on to the dangerman at that stage, and the last six points of the half were shared as Cuala went in at the break leading by 2-7 to 0-8.
The O'Connor brothers, Harry and Jack, combined to set up their cousin, Joe, for a score before an O'Callaghan shot was saved by Luke White in the 21st minute after a crossfield delivery from left to right by John Sheanon.
David Treacy's task of converting a free was made easier after a bout of dissent, and he also knocked over a '65 after Jack O'Connor pointed from a Daithí Waters clearance.
A foul on Mark Maloney led to Joe Coleman splitting the posts from his own half, but the last word before the break belonged to goalscorer Jake Malone whose point left the favourites five clear.
St. Martin's resumed with Joe O'Connor at left half-back and Barry O'Connor at right half-forward, but they quickly lost their way as they were outscored by 1-10 to 0-3 before Cuala emptied their bench and conceded the last four points without reply.
Jake Firman moved in to partner Ciarán Lyng in a two-man inside attacking line, and there was some hope of better things to come when substitute Darren Codd - a replacement for Mikey Coleman - pointed with his first touch from a Jack O'Connor handpass.
Joe Coleman hit the first of his team's six second-half wides (nine in all), and was also shown a yellow card for an earlier slap at Nicky Kenny which led to referee David Hughes giving Cuala an advantage.
The big gap started to appear after a long-range David Treacy point was followed by a third from Nicky Kenny, with Treacy adding another from a free before poor play by Joe O'Connor and Daithí Waters in quick succession presented Colm Cronin with a gift score (2-11 to 0-9).
Michael Codd came on for Jake Firman just before Joe Coleman pointed a free that would be the last St. Martin's score for almost 16 minutes.
He missed a free after Oisín Gough was booked for a swipe at Darren Codd in the right corner, and Jack O'Connor was next to enter the notebook for dissent at the start of the last quarter.
Cuala had full control of the game at that stage, and there was absolutely no chance of a comeback.
Just to underline that point, Con O'Callaghan stepped into the limelight again for a 90-second showcase of sheer class.
He hit two points off his left side, with David Treacy and Darragh O'Connell supplying the deliveries into space, before turning on to his right to finish off another neat ball into his area from Simon Timlin. Willie Devereux was behind him on all three occasions, but once O'Callaghan gained possession there was only going to be one outcome.
And as if to rub further salt in the wounds, the ultra-talented number 14 won a ball on the right that seemed to favour a defender and, after referee Hughes played a good advantage, he fed Colm Cronin who burst past Luke White and tapped it into a gaping net (3-14 to 0-10).
Before the puck-out, Cuala centre-back Seán Moran went down in a heap and his colleagues quickly pinpointed the culprit. The man in the middle sought confirmation from his umpires before showing a deserved red card to Michael Codd.
Play was re-started with a throw-in, and Jack O'Connor ended up with a broken hurl and a second yellow as St. Martin's saw their numbers reduced from 15 to 13 in less than 90 seconds.
A booking followed for Willie Devereux before David Treacy converted the free, but Joe Coleman did well to respond with a point from play from a Mark Maloney delivery.
Substitutes Brian Fitzgerald and Niall Carty hit the last two Cuala points, and the four unanswered Martin's points at the finish put a slightly better look on a still lopsided scoreboard.
Coleman connected sweetly with a line ball on the right and also added a brace of frees, with Daithí Waters hitting only their sixth point from play in between.
It was an eye-opening experience on the whole for St. Martin's, but it should make them all the more determined to get back to this stage and have another crack at one of the big boys in 2018.
St. Martin's: Luke White; Willie Devereux, Paudie Kelly, Conor Firman; Daithí Waters (0-1), Aaron Maddock, Barry O'Connor; Harry O'Connor, Mark Maloney; Jake Firman, Jack O'Connor (0-1), Joe Coleman (0-11, 8 frees, 1 line ball); Joe O'Connor (0-1), Ciarán Lyng (capt.), Mikey Coleman. Subs. - Darren Codd (0-1) for M. Coleman (HT), Michael Codd for J. Firman (40), Ben Maddock for B. O'Connor (49), Philip Dempsey for Devereux (60+1).
Cuala: Seán Brennan; Oisín Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, Simon Timlin; John Sheanon, Seán Moran, Paul Schutte (capt.); Seán Treacy, Colum Sheanon (0-1); Darragh O'Connell, Colm Cronin (1-1), Jake Malone (1-1); Con O'Callaghan (1-3), Nicky Kenny (0-3), David Treacy (0-6, 4 frees, 1 '65). Subs. - Niall Carty (0-1) for Con O'Callaghan (51), Cian Waldron for Cronin (51), Ross Tierney for J. Sheanon (53), Shane Stapleton for C. Sheanon (57), Brian Fitzgerald (0-1) for Kenny (57).
Referee: David Hughes (Carlow).