Cuala signal intent as they steamroll to glory
Cuala 1-23 Kilc/Killoughey 1-9, Leinster Club SHC final
The prizes keep coming for Cuala. Having won the All-Ireland title for the first time this year they joined another exclusive club yesterday when they retained the Leinster crown in Portlaoise.
They are now alongside Kilkenny pair, Ballyhale Shamrocks and James Stephens, Birr (Offaly) and Rathnure (Wexford) as the only clubs to have won the Leinster two-in-a-row, a milestone the Dublin champions reached with the greatest of ease. They were vastly superior to Kilcormac/Killoughey, almost a point per man better in what was a very disappointing contest.
On this evidence, and on their impressive march through Leinster, it's hard to see anyone stopping them from repeating their All-Ireland heroics and newly-crowned Galway champions Liam Mellows face a real uphill battle in next February's All-Ireland semi-final.
Cuala had this victory neatly packaged after 20 minutes, at which stage they led by 1-8 to 0-0, having hurled K/K into oblivion. The Offaly champions rallied before half-time with Conor Mahon's 26th-minute goal giving them brief hope.
However, it was all but extinguished just before the interval when Mahon was sent off for pulling across Oisín Gough. It left K/K facing an eight-point (1-10 to 1-2) deficit heading into a second half where Cuala had an extra man.
It was always going to be far too much for K/K, whose slim chance of a revival disappeared in the 36th minute when Cuala goalkeeper Sean Brennan made a superb save from Ciaran Slevin's penalty, diverting the ball out for a '65'.
Slevin pointed it but K/K needed a goal which never looked like coming from there on. They cut the deficit to seven points around the three-quarter stage but scored only two more while Cuala added nine.
Cuala looked very much like a side with a lot more to offer if the occasion demanded. Instead, they hurled well within themselves, checking occasionally in their rear view mirrors for opposition that just couldn't keep up with the pace.
"We were wary of them coming out for the second half," said Cuala captain Paul Schutte. "They went a man down against Mount Leinster Rangers a few weeks ago and kicked on. In fact they played better from there on so we had to be ready for them."
He departed the scene in the 22nd minute, having tweaked his hamstring, but could be proud of his contribution up to then as part of a dominant half-back/midfield area.
Sean Moran, John Sheanon, Jake Malone and Darragh O'Connell also put K/K under enormous pressure, especially on their puck-outs, which provided a rich source of possession for Cuala. That, in turn, presented the attack with lots of chances and with Con O'Callaghan, Colm Cronin and Colum Sheanon winning many of their one-on-one battles it was ominous for K/K from a long way out.
That trio scored 1-8 from open play between them and when K/K's overworked defence conceded frees, David Treacy punished them with his deadly accuracy from all distances and angles. He pointed nine frees and a '65', adding to the misery for a K/K side that looked mesmerised by the pace and power confronting them.
Somewhat surprisingly, they made no special arrangements to curb the O'Callaghan threat, even after he spun past Ger Healion early on. K/K got away with that one, but not so in the 12th minute when Callaghan flashed in a goal.
It put Cuala six points ahead and with K/K struggling all over the pitch, it was always going to be a long afternoon for Stephen Byrne's men.
O'Callaghan finished on 1-2, a tally that would have been much higher if his striking was up to its usual standard.
K/K switched full-back Ger Healion to the attack for the second half but it made no appreciable difference in what was very much a lost cause.
Nobody could fault K/K's effort but they lacked the poise which flowed from Cuala across all sectors.
Nonetheless, their task would have been made much harder if K/K hadn't been reduced to 14 men.
Cuala were expecting a real battle, only to be pleasantly surprised by how easily they took control. "We looked over their past results in Leinster and they had only conceded an average of 14 points," said Schutte. "When you're playing a defensive team, it's very important to get a good start. We did that - 1-8 without reply - that set us up nicely. It meant they had to come out and play a bit more, which suited us."
Culala manager, Mattie Kenny was delighted with the manner in which his side sprung from the starting blocks, leaving K/K in their wake. "We went after that first quarter," he said. "We wanted to set the tempo. We got a few early scores and missed a few as well. We worked very hard in the first 15 or 20 minutes but then out tempo dropped which allowed Kilcormac to come back into it."
In truth, Cuala were never really threatened by a K/K side that didn't register their first score until the 25th minute.
So then, the season ends on another high for Cuala, who will now fancy their chances of retaining the All-Ireland title. They meet Galway champions Liam Mellows in the semi-final in February, a game they will start as favourites.
However, Kenny sounded the warning bells immediately, pointing out that any team that wins the title in his native county is always extremely strong. "We know that but that's for another day. We'll enjoy this one first," he said.
Schutte is also looking forward to the All-Ireland title defence but first there's a Christmas break to enjoy. "I hope Mattie gives us a few weeks off but you never know with him," he said.
Kenny can afford to ease off for now as his squad have done everything that was asked of them all season.
And, on yesterday's evidence, there's probably more to come.
Scores - Cuala: D Treacy (9f, 1'65') 0-10; Con O'Callaghan 1-2; C Sheanon, C Cronin 0-3 each; D O'Connell (1f) 0-2; C Waldron, J Malone, B Fitzgerald 0-1 each. Kilcormac/Killoughey: Ciaran Slevin (4f, 1'65') 0-5; Conor Mahon 1-0; P Geraghty 0-2; T Geraghty, D Currams 0-1 each.
Cuala: S Brennan; S Timlin, Cian O'Callaghan, O Gough; J Sheanon, S Moran, P Schutte; J Malone, D O'Connell; S Treacy, C Cronin, D Treacy; C Sheanon, Con O'Callaghan, N Kenny. Subs: C Waldron for Schutte (22), B Fitzgerald for Kenny (44), N Carty for Treacy (56), R Tierney for O'Connell (58), 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 (45), J Geraghty for Gorman (53), C Quinn for S Leonard (57), B Leonard for G Healion (58), Cathal Mahon for J Quinn (60).
Ref - S Cleere (Kilkenny).