Kenny praises his lethal marskmen as dogged Cuala earn final replay
Na Piarsaigh 2-19 Cuala 1-22 (After extra-time)
Hurling has a long history of captivating matches, but the All-Ireland club final has been strangely uncooperative, with the last 20 finals before this mostly one-sided affairs, with an average winning margin of nine points.
This Croke Park showdown on Saturday carried the promise of something more memorable and did not disappoint, providing a genuinely competitive contest that was level eight times and had two dramatic finales.
Sean Moran will enter Cuala folklore for his injury-time goal from a 20m free which saved Cuala from defeat and forced extra-time. Then David Treacy, unerring all day from frees, converted the last of 12 attempts to seal a replay in the final minute of extra-time.
Twice Cuala manager Mattie Kenny had to watch his marksmen stand over dead balls with their title on the line. Neither rescue mission was a given, although Moran's had the longer odds.
"What was going through my mind was, 'this is the last puck of the game'," said Kenny.
"Harry Robertson was beside me and I said, 'he needs to make this or it's gone'.
"Full confidence in him? You wouldn't. How could you have full confidence? The goal was lined. I was just hoping he'd get a good strike on it and that he did. I was more than pleased when I seen the net shaking."
He was equally appreciative of Treacy's point at the end.
"That was a good free from David because he wasn't that far inside the 65m line and he was hitting it into the teeth of the wind. Thankfully, David's free-taking for the last three or four years has always been crucial for us and he didn't let us down today."
Treacy's dozen frees, from 12 attempts, were invaluable on a day in which Con O'Callaghan and Mark Schutte were both restricted to just one point, with Mike Casey keeping a tight grip on O'Callaghan throughout.
Along with Treacy's own substantial input from placed balls, his brother Sean chipped in with three long-range scores from play. Paul Schutte was outstanding in defence, but Na Piarsaigh did eventually find holes and there were goals for Peter Casey early in the second-half, after a neat side-step past John Sheanon, and David Breen early in extra-time.
Kevin Downes was excellent, with four points from play, and Shane Dowling and Adrian Breen also provided valuable contributions, Breen ending with four points from play. Ultimately, Na Piarsaigh are likely to have gone home the more disappointed.
Twice they lost winning positions in a match influenced by a strong and bitterly cold wind blowing towards the Canal goal.
Their manager, Shane O'Neill, was unhappy with some of the refereeing decisions.
"There were a lot of things I didn't think were frees," he admitted, before saying of referee Colm Lyons: "I would say he would be extremely disappointed with his own performance. I'll just leave it at that then."
The date and venue for the replay remain undecided, with Kenny hoping to return to Croke Park.
Na Piarsaigh will be strengthened by the return of Conor Boylan and Tommy Grimes from suspension.
They started slowly on Saturday, trailing 0-1 to 0-4 after 15 minutes, despite playing with the strong wind. A terrific score from Peter Casey ignited them, and they reeled off he last four points of the half to lead 0-8 to 0-6 at the interval.
Casey's goal in the 34th minute moved them four ahead, but then Cuala raised a gear and hit five points without reply in an eight-minute spell. After a Treacy free put Cuala 0-15 to 1-11 up entering the final quarter, Na Piarsaigh responded impressively, outscoring Cuala 0-5 to 0-1 before Moran's free sent the game to extra-time, the teams level at 1-16 each.
In extra-time Con O'Callaghan scored his point, but David Breen's goal into the wind helped Na Piarsaigh to a 2-18 to 1-20 lead at the break. Treacy and David Dempsey traded scores before Treacy sent over the 80th-minute free that earned the replay.
Scorers - Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 0-6 (4f); P Casey 1-2; D Breen 1-1; K Downes, A Breen 0-4; D Dempsey 0-2
Cuala: D Treacy 0-12 (12f); S Moran 1-0 (f); S Treacy 0-3; C Cronin, C Sheanon, D O'Connell, N Kenny, J Malone, M Schutte, C O'Callaghan 0-1
Na Piarsaigh - P Kennedy; J Boylan, M Casey, N Buckley; A Dempsey, C King, K Kennedy; S Dowling, W O'Donoghue; R Lynch, D Breen, D Dempsey; A Breen, K Downes, P Casey Subs: M Foley for Buckley (70); G Brown for Boylan (75); K Ryan for Kennedy (80)
Cuala - S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, P Schutte; J Sheanon, S Moran, D O'Connell; C Sheanon, S Treacy; J Malone, C Cronin, D Treacy; N Kenny, Con O'Callaghan, M Schutte Subs: S Stapleton for J Sheanon (48); N Carty for Kenny (53); C Waldron for Malone (62); N Keny for Carty & J Malone for Waldron (start of extra-time); S Timlin for S Treacy (66); D O'Flynn for Cronin (68); S Treacy for Kenny (74)
Ref - C Lyons (Cork).