Mullins left in shock as victory is overshadowed by selector's sudden illness
Leinster club SHC quarter-final: St Mullins 2-13 Cuala 0-18
This ought to have been a day of celebration for St Mullins, who pulled off an audacious victory over twice-crowned All-Ireland champions Cuala. But attention at the final whistle quickly turned to the welfare of one of their selectors who suffered an apparent heart attack and was being cared for by medics in an ambulance which stayed on the field for almost an hour after the match ended.
Instead of jubilation, the St Mullins players, that included one of the selector's sons, were preoccupied with his well-being. Micheal Ryan, a former club and county player, was later taken to hospital and concerns started to ease a little but the shocking incident left his family and friends badly shaken.
His son, Oisin, had come on during the game, before going back off with time almost up when the incident occurred. The episode muted celebrations after a famous win, two second-half goals inspiring St Mullins to reverse a Leinster club semi-final loss to Cuala at the same ground three years ago when the margin was 12 points. St Mullins is the most successful club in Carlow hurling but in recent years the achievements of Mount Leinster Rangers have left them bringing up the rear. Their rivals won the Leinster title in 2013 and were closing in on a third county title in succession until being defeated by St Mullins in a thrilling final a few weeks ago.
St Mullins defeated O'Tooles in an earlier Leinster expedition in 2002, but this was their most accomplished win in the province. "I've played five times in Leinster, this is only my second win," said Jack Kavanagh. "We beat Raharney in 2016 and Cuala beat us down here by 12 points in a Leinster semi-final. So we owed them one."
Kavanagh has been a senior hurler since 2006 and his goal in the second half gave the Carlow men added belief, even if it relied on a goalkeeping error. The midfielder struck the ball long on the spin and it looked like it might have the length to earn a point but Sean Brennan put his hand up and it fell from his grasp into the net.
Three minutes into the second half, the goal put St Mullins ahead, 1-9 to 0-10, after Cuala took a 0-9 to 0-8 lead into half-time. Diarmaid O'Flynn, a late replacement, and Sean Moran both scored sweet points in the opening half, but only once did they really threaten the home goal. Slick control by Daragh O'Connell and a darting run ended with a shot saved by Kevin Kehoe.
Cuala were wasteful. David Treacy, though he was one of their better forwards after half-time, missed two early frees and a 65, briefly relinquishing duties to Naoise Waldron, who also missed. Treacy resumed the free-taking duties and he hauled Cuala level in the second half with three scores on the bounce. Yet after St Mullins got their second goal in the 57th minute, Treacy missed from 45 metres with a fairly straight line.
Con O'Callaghan came on 13 minutes into the second half and had one shot drop short, before he was fouled for a free which Treacy pointed. His loss on the day told as Cuala found it hard open up a stout St Mullins defence in which the collective thrived, but John Doran caught the eye.
"Yeah they're great, they're animals, so determined, so dogged," Kavanagh said of his defence. "When our backs were to the wall they came out with ball after ball. It wasn't pretty at the end there but we hung on."
Cuala also had to field without Colm Cronin and Oisin Gough. Paul Schutte was immense at centre-back but St Mullins had a huge match from their key player, Marty Kavanagh, who scored ten points, the one from play an absolute monster late in the first half which levelled the sides. Moments before James Doyle effected an excellent dispossession to rob Nicky Kenny, who was motoring through on the home goal.
Capping a huge performance, St Mullins' top scorer and captain Marty Kavanagh then set up the goal which sealed the win three minutes from the end of normal time. He took on the Cuala back line and while fouled the referee, Michael Murtagh, made sensible use of the advantage rule. The ball found its way to James Doyle. His finish was emphatic.
A minute before, Treacy had given Cuala the lead; the experienced forward would match Kavanagh's contribution with ten points, two from play. Brian Fitzgerald impressed when introduced but the Doyle goal restored St Mullins' lead at a critical stage. Kavanagh landed another free to leave a goal between them in the first of three minutes of added time. Two Treacy frees reduced the lead but Cuala ran out of time and road.
"Sure it was a massive result," admitted Jack Kavanagh. "Cuala are a serious team, we knew we would have to go to the wall to win it. Just lucky we came out on the right end of it, could have gone either way."
But confidence, in spite of Cuala's rating, wasn't lacking. "There is loads of belief in this team," Kavanagh said, "and we know the quality of hurling we have."
Scorers - St Mullins: M Kavanagh 0-10 (9f); J Doyle, J Kavanagh 1-1 each; S Murphy 0-1. Cuala: D Treacy 0-10 (8f); D O'Flynn, S Moran 0-2; D O'Connell, C Sheanon, B Fitzgerald, J Malone 0-1.
St Mullins - K Kehoe; G Bennett, P Doyle, J Doran; C Kavanagh, M Walsh, O Boland; J Doyle, J Kavanagh; P Walsh, J O'Neill, M Kavanagh; P Boland, P Connors, S Murphy. Subs: P Kehoe for O'Neill (38 mins); O Ryan for P Walsh (50); J Murphy for Boland (59); P Boland for Ryan (62).
Cuala - S Brennan; S Timlin, Cian O'Callaghan, D O'Flynn; S Moran, P Schutte, J Sheanon; S Treacy, C Sheanon; J Malone, D O'Connell, D Treacy; N Waldron, M Schutte, N Kenny. Subs: B Fitzgerald for Waldron (half-time); Con O'Callaghan for Kenny (43); C Waldron for C Sheanon (62).
REF - Michael Murtagh (Westmeath).