Cuala silence Kelly to reach new frontier
Cuala 2-19 Ballyea 1-10
Tony Kelly sets the highest standards in hurling. So when he's not just held scoreless in a game of such magnitude as an AIB All-Ireland club hurling final but outscored by his direct opponent, it's akin to Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins having a blank Cheltenham Festival.
It's that statistic that perhaps captures this final best of all. Ballyea aren't a one-man team but reduce one man to the periphery as Cuala did here and malaise quickly spreads through the rest.
In a team that drips with inter-county experience, Dublin choose their second oldest starter to track Kelly. John Sheanon isn't a name that will resonate too far out of that south-east pocket of Dublin's suburbs that acts as a vast hinterland for Cuala but his quiet presence here in Kelly's vicinity for much of the match really helped to turn this into a very one-sided encounter by the end. Kelly's day began with a shot off an upright and then a wide. By the 26th minute he was the first name in referee Fergal Horgan's book. And his influence never made it beyond lukewarm.
Think of Kelly rampaging through Thurles Sarsfields in the closing stages of normal time and extra-time. Or when a steady hand was needed to calm nerves at the end of their semi-final against a resurgent St Thomas'. Here he just couldn't get a foothold.
Sheanon had help as Cuala brought a high work-rate to their game that had Ballyea under pressure just about everywhere. If Sheanon's match-up with Kelly worked a treat so too did Oisin Gough's placement on Niall Deasy who had been whipping storms all winter. Deasy did manage to hold off Gough to grab a goal in the 50th minute but again it was in isolation as Gough hounded him.
The winners' defence was compact and resolute. Sean Moran showed some lovely touches at centre-back while Cian O'Callaghan and Paul Schutte made vital interceptions. Schutte had been out for almost three months through injury until this week.
He may not have got a touch to Pearse Lillis' hurl just after half-time after a great Kelly tackle on Colm Cronin and delivery. But his close presence in pursuit was enough to scramble and Lillis' shot from close range was too weak to beat Sean Brennan who gathered and cleared. A goal at that stage, with Cuala leading by 1-7 to 0-4 at the break, could really have ignited the Ballyea challenge.
For Cuala, it was a first ever All-Ireland club hurling title and a first for any Dublin club too. The lineage goes back to the trio of teams that won Dublin titles more than two decades ago is strong with the fathers of the Treacy, Schutte and O'Callaghan brothers all involved.
Their team is essentially home-grown but it was a recruit from Kerry who rose higher than everyone else. Darragh O'Connell thrived in that pocket where Kelly has been so imperious, bursting forward to score three points and spray so many intelligent passes around the field.
Ballyea were heavy-handed in their approach at times in defence and that allowed David Treacy to stockpile a decent tally. But it was obvious in the early stages just how apprehensive these first-time finalists with so much poor striking. Cuala's first goal settled them quicker with Cronin running on to a break off a Sheanon delivery to drive past Kevin Sheehan for a 1-2 to 0-1 lead.
Ballyea got it back to a two-point deficit with a Lillis point on 19 minutes but that was as close as they got as Cuala asserted themselves.
The wondrous talent of Con O'Callaghan manifested sporadically early on but then began to flow. He might have had a goal on 23 minutes when he rounded Jack Browne but popped a shot off the crossbar with Sheehan too far off his line but his point just before the break when he found space was a warning of things to come for Ballyea.
Mark Schutte's form has dipped in recent years but you couldn't fault his work-rate here and he was creator of O'Callaghan's next score that pushed them 1-9 to 0-4 clear by the 35th minute.
He was firing on all cylinders by then and was fouled to allow Treacy make it a nine-point game as Ballyea really began to slip.
Gary Brennan's fielding and athleticism was their most profitable outlet and when Brennan and then Lillis reduced the gap back to seven in quick succession, it gave brief hope. Treacy and Deasy divided six frees between them to make it 1-14 to 0-10. With the clock ticking these were terms that suited Cuala just fine.
But they were checked when Lillis's sublime delivery over the top put Deasy in and despite being fouled, he was able to use the advantage to throw off Gough for once and leave just four in it by the 51th minute.
If Ballyea sensed potential frailty it never materialised and Cuala's response was emphatic. O'Connell surged clear of the cover for his second point that should possibly have been a goal before Jake Malone negotiated the traffic superbly to make the most of a great Con O'Callaghan take and lay-off for a second goal.
The door was firmly shut on Ballyea now and Cuala reeled off four more points, two from substitute Colm Sheanon, to ensure another large winning margin in an All-Ireland club hurling final.
Scorers - Cuala: D Treacy 0-9 (8fs), C Cronin 1-1, D O'Connell 0-3, J Malone 1-0, C O'Callaghan, C Sheanon 0-2 each, M Schutte, J Sheanon 0-1 each. Ballyea: N Deasy 1-6 (0-6fs), P Lillis 0-2, J Murphy, G Brennan 0-1 each.
Cuala - S Brennan 7; S Timlin 6, Cian O'Callaghan 7, P Schutte 8; J Malone 7, S Moran 8, O Gough 8; J Sheanon 8, D O'Connell 9; S Treacy 7, C Cronin 7, D Treacy 8; C Waldron 6, C O'Callaghan 8, M Schutte 7. Subs: C Sheanon for Waldron (46), R Tierney for Timlin (61), N Kenny for Cronin (62).
Ballyea - K Sheehan 6; J Neylon 5, J Browne 7, B Carrig 6; G O'Connell 7, P Flanagan 7, J Murphy 6; T Kelly 6, S Lineen 6; N Deasy 6, G Brennan 7, C Doohan 5; PJ Connolly 5, D Burke 5, P Lillis 7. Subs: M O'Leary for Connolly (37), D Egan for Burke (40), B Murphy for Neylon (55), M Coughlan for Lineen (57).
Ref - F Horgan (Tipperary)