Con O'Callaghan injury takes gloss off latest Dublin crown as Cuala target bigger things
Cuala 1-18 St Brigid's 1-14
THE odd sight of Con O’Callaghan retiring injured after just five minutes of today’s Dublin SHC final was about the only blemish on an otherwise cheerful day for Cuala’s high-achieving hurlers.
We’ve seen O’Callaghan do most things over the past four remarkable years as the GAA’s most prodigious dual player.
Limping out of a big match wasn’t one of them.
Given he sustained the injury to his quad in the act of scoring a goal in the first scoring play of the match, it must have been tempting for Willie Maher to consign the outcome as collateral damage.
But then, Cuala’s ambitions for the season probably stretch beyond yesterday’s county title.
And their new manager made no attempt to conceal his annoyance that referee Thomas Gleeson issued no sanction to St. Brigid’s and Dublin goalkeeper Alan Nolan for his part in the incident.
The goal was trademark.
Seán Moran intercepted a long pass from Eoghan McKeigue in his own half and went long to O’Callaghan, who darted into a little patch of space to the right of Nolan’s goal.
He feinted left, then turned sharply to his right and rounded Donncha Ryan, who slipped.
Having taken a quick glance to his right and ascertained nothing better was on, he advanced on Nolan’s goal and smashed a shot off his left.
The Dublin number one made himself big but raised his left leg recklessly high after the shot had hit the net, catching O’Callaghan hard on his upper thigh.
It was very much a day for digging in, not a discipline to which Cuala have been particularly accustomed this year.
In their five previous Championship games, the 2017 and ’18 All-Ireland champions’ average winning margin was over 18 points.
They had scored an average of 32 points per game.
And when last the teams met, in the round-robin stage of the Championship, Cuala won by 19 points and St. Brigid’s finished with 13 men.
Clearly then, Brigid’s had to try and dictate the shape of the match.
To that end, they succeeded.
Nolan made a brilliant save from Mark Schutte after eight minutes that kept Johnny McGuirk’s team from going six points down and from there, they forced the game into a frenzied battle, condensing space for Cuala’s sweeter strikers and competing zealously against their attackers in the air.
In the county semi-final, Cuala scored 3-21 against St. Vincent’s and their only scoreable free came in the first minute of injury time.
Here, David Treacy scored twelve frees.
The game was curiously fractured - something that suited Brigid’s more than it did Cuala.
But Brigid’s competed ferociously, had an in-form freetaker of their own in Paul Winters (0-7 from eight frees) and despite having Kevin Callaghan sent off on a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident in the 53rd minute, got within a single point of the unbackable favourites with two minutes to play.
Their goal came in the 49th minute when Seán Brennan’s stunning save from Cian O’Sullivan’s shot rebounded high into the evening sky and then right in front of Keith Mullally, who batted home.
But with the extra men, Cuala calmly worked the ball through Moran, who was outstanding, and generated the late scoring chances that put them into a Leinster club Championships for which they had already been installed as favourites.
SCORERS – Cuala: D Treacy 0-12 (12f); Con O’Callaghan 1-0; S Moran 0-2; J Malone, D O’Connell, C Sheanon, N Kenny 0-1 each. St Brigid’s: P Winters 0-7 (7f); K Mullally 1-1; J McGuirk 0-2; C O’Sullivan, D Plunkett, L Purtill, E Dunne (s-l) 0-1 each.
CUALA – S Brennan; D O’Floinn, Cian O’Callaghan, S Timlin; O Gough, P Schutte, S Moran; C Sheanon, S Treacy; J Malone, C Cronin, D O’Connell; D Treacy, M Schutte, Con O’Callaghan. Subs: N Kenny for Con O’Callaghan (8 inj), J Sheanon for O’Floinn (h-t), L Murphy for Kenny (61), N Waldron for Malone (63).
ST. BRIGID’S – A Nolan; M Kavanagh, D Ryan, E McKeigue; A Dunphy, D Plunkett, J O’Neill; K Mullally, C Doyle; C Kellett, E Dunne, P Winters; K Callaghan, C O’Sullivan, J McGuirk. Subs: L Purtell for McKeigue (23), J O’Connell for Kellett (44).
REF – Thomas Gleeson