Cuala are forced to dig deep to keep double mission alive
Cuala 1-17 Liam Mellows 0-10
Cuala could add their names to a select group of club hurling teams on St Patrick's Day after battling to this semi-final victory over Liam Mellows in Thurles yesterday.
Just four teams have retained the All-Ireland senior club hurling championship in the competition's 48-year history - Sarsfields in 1994, Athenry in 2001, Birr in '03 and most recently Portumna in '09.
Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh now stand between Mattie Kenny's side and a second All-Ireland on the spin.
They earned their chance doing it the hard way on a dull, wet evening in Semple Stadium, even if a ten-point margin suggested a level of comfort they never possessed until the final, rain-soaked minutes of injury-time.
For all their lavish array of attack talent, Cuala were forced into a slog by Liam Mellows.
In comparison to the recent proliferation of high-octane, big-scoring All-Ireland club semi-finals, this one was drenched with pre-emptive caution early on. Cuala played with five men forward in the first half, Liam Mellows with just four.
It meant Seán Moran controlled the skies around his Cuala defence while David Collins had the luxury of tucking in behind his full-back line whenever Con O'Callaghan won possession in an effort to subvert the Cuala prodigy's remarkable recent goalscoring record in both codes.
As it went, O'Callaghan scored with three of his first four touches and won a free with his fifth. Operating in that furthest-man-forward role he excels at in both codes, O'Callaghan's menace was palpable. Even when he wasn't near the play.
Mostly, Liam Mellows - somewhat surprise Galway champions last year - were confined to scores from frees in the first half.
Adrian Morrissey's striking from long range was near impeccable and he scored five of their six first-half points, a haul good enough to keep them to within two of the champions at half-time and still firmly in contention
Cuala, meanwhile, were largely shackled during that period, save for the odd flourish from David Treacy and O'Callaghan's supreme ball-winning.
Their regular goal threats - O'Callaghan and Colm Cronin - were stopped at source by Liam Mellows' densely-populated defence.
Treacy's early touches were many and influential but it was the physicality of Cuala's defence that impressed most.
Beforehand, captain Paul Schutte was replaced in the starting team by his brother Mark, who missed all of Cuala's Leinster club campaign with a foot injury.
It forced a reshuffle, with Darragh O'Connell switching from his regular midfield spot to wing-back and, largely, it worked.
Yet at 0-8 to 0-6, Cuala didn't have any level of comfort.
They exploded into the second half though, scoring the first five points of the period, a run that would ultimately win them the game.
O'Connell stretched his legs for the first time when he went haring through from the throw-in, although his batted shot for goal erred on the high side.
Treacy added three more points in that stretch of supremacy - two frees - while O'Callaghan's threat was such that Mellows were disinclined to leave any less than two men on him. At 0-13 to 0-6 after just seven minutes of the second half, Cuala merely had to stop any goal threat to make sure their spot in the St Patrick's Day showpiece.
And with Moran, O'Connell and Cian O'Callaghan hugely prominent at the back, Mellows never really got a sniff.
Cuala had a couple themselves, with Mark Schutte and Cronin both going close.
They led by six going into the final straight but point from substitute Niall Carty and a goal from Brian Fitzgerald - another sub - put the final touches on a gritty performance and yet another win for the reigning All-Ireland champions.
Scorers - Cuala: D Treacy 0-7 (4f, 1 '65), Con O'Callaghan 0-4, B Fitzgerald 1-0, M Schutte, D O'Connell, S Treacy, C Sheanon, N Kenny, N Carty 0-1 each. Liam Mellows: A Morrissey 0-7 (7f), A Callanan 0-2, C Kavanagh, T Haran (f) 0-1 each.
Cuala: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, S Timlin; D O'Connell, J Sheanon, S Moran; C Sheanon, S Treacy; J Malone, M Schutte, D Treacy; C Cronin, Con O'Callaghan, N Kenny. Subs: C Waldron for Timlin (45), D O'Flynn for C Sheanon (45), N Carty for Kenny (52), B Fitzgerald for Schutte (57), R Tierney for Cian O'Callaghan (63).
Liam Mellows: K Walsh; S Morrissey, M Conneely, C Reilly; M Hughes, D Collins, S Barrett; J Hastings, K Lee; C Hynes, T Haran, R Elwood; A Morrissey, A Callanan, C Kavanagh. Subs: J Forde for Hynes (41), D Fahy for Elwood (44), S Kileen for Kavanagh (58), B Leen for Conneely (61), S Kileen for Haran (63).
Referee: P O'Dwyer (Carlow)
Sunday Indo Sport