All-Ireland champions Cuala became the first Dublin outfit to defend their AIB Leinster club hurling crown in Portlaoise today, coasting to a 14-point victory over 14-man Kilcormac-Killoughey.
n truth, despite some battling second half resistance from the numerically-challenged pretenders, the outcome was never remotely in doubt.
Not after a whirlwind start from the holders; and certainly not after Kilcormac's goalscorer, Conor Mahon, received a straight red card deep in first half injury-time.
That opening period was a case of whatever can go wrong will go wrong for the challengers.
After 18 minutes they trailed by 1-8 to no score. Con O'Callaghan, who scarcely qualified as a state secret in the run-up to this final, already had 1-2 to his name, calling into question Kilcormac-Killoughey's damage-limitation tactics.
Even though the champions were only playing with two men inside – O'Callaghan and Nicky Kenny, with Colm Cronin floating between the lines to incisive effect – K/K never seemed to have enough men in position to deal with the Cuala No 14.
Their 12th minute goal was a case in point: a long, angled free out of defence was gathered by O'Callaghan in his stride, his marker Ger Healion quickly left for dead. Even though his final shot came from a very tight angle, 'keeper Conor Slevin only succeeded in taking the pace off the sliotar which still crept over the line.
When O'Callaghan added a quickfire brace to leave 11 points between the sides, it looked game over.
But, staring humiliation, Kilcormac-Killoughey summoned up a mini-revival before the break.
Mahon's switch from the '40' to full-forward was key. After drawing the foul that led to Ciaran Slevin's tap-over free for their opening score – in the 25th minute – Mahon then used his physical strength a minute later to discommode Cian O'Callaghan under a dangerous high ball delivered by Peter Geraghty. When the ball broke, the powerful No 11 pulled on the ground and his low shot fizzed to the left corner.
But then Mahon undid that promising work with his dismissal for foul play against Oisin Gough which was brought to the attention of referee Seán Cleere by his umpires. Cue a red card and the whistle sounded with Cuala in the ascendant, 1-10 to 1-2.
With the Geraghtys, Thomas and especially Peter, to the fore, Kilcormac put in a strong third quarter. But they never got closer than seven points – largely thanks to Cuala 'keeper Seán Brennan who made a spectacular diving save to repel Slevin's 38th minute penalty.
Seán Moran registered a storming second half from the Cuala half-back line, with Colm Cronin and Colum Sheanon the best of their attack and David Treacy deadly from placed balls, registering 0-10 in total.
They now advance to an All-Ireland semi-final date with the new Galway champions, Liam Mellows.
SCORERS - Cuala: D Treacy 0-10 (9f, 1 '65'), Con O'Callaghan 1-2, C Cronin, C Sheanon 0-3 each, D O'Connell 0-2 (1f), C Waldron, J Malone, B Fitzgerald 0-1 each. Kilcormac/Killoughey: Ciaran Slevin 0-5 (3f, 1 '65'), Conor Mahon 1-0, P Geraghty 0-2, T Geraghty, D Currams 0-1 each.
CUALA: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, S Timlin; P Schutte, S Moran, J Sheanon; D O'Connell, S Treacy; C Sheanon, D Treacy, J Malone; C Cronin, Con O'Callaghan, N Kenny. Subs: C Waldron for Schutte (inj 22), B Fitzgerald for Kenny (44), N Carty for D Treacy (56), R Tierney for O'Connell (59), S Stapleton for Con O'Callaghan (59).
KILCORMAC/KILLOUGHEY: Conor Slevin; K Leonard, G Healion, E Grogan; K Grogan, D Kilmartin, J Quinn; T Geraghty, Ciaran Slevin; J Gorman, C Mahon, P Geraghty; S Leonard, P Healion, D Currams. Subs: A McConville for P Healion (46), J Geraghty for Gorman (53), C Quinn for Leonard (57), B Leonard for G Healion (59), Cathal Mahon for J Quinn (60).
REF: S Cleere (Kilkenny).