O'Callaghan class allows Cuala to keep fairytale going
Cuala 3-21 Slaughtneil 2-11
It was put to Mattie Kenny in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday evening that his team had just stylishly destroyed a modern GAA fairytale in the making.
"It's a fairytale for us too," the Cuala manager insisted after his team's 13-point obliteration of All-Ireland club double-chasing Slaughtneil.
"Both teams were working to get to the final for the first time in their history. So it means just as much to us as it does to Slaughtneil."
That much was obvious at full-time. By then, Cuala had become the first Dublin team to qualify for an All-Ireland club hurling final.
Given the proficiency with which they did so, you could almost visualise the chemistry with Ballyea, the Clare team similarly in a first final in what should be a cracker on St Patrick's Day.
Slaughtneil's long-haul voyage might well have caught up with them here but Cuala played at a different level.
They were only beginning to make their case when Con O'Callaghan, the scorer of six goals in their Leinster campaign and out-in-front leader for the mantle of best hurler not currently in the Dublin hurling panel, trounced his man and roofed another one. "It's not just that he turns up for the games," explained Kenny, dispelling the idea that O'Callaghan is some class of sporting freak, capable of devoting his primary interests to football yet routinely destroys the best club defences in hurling. "In fairness, since the All-Ireland (football) final, Con has been hurling with us. He's six months hurling with us, non stop."
Everything worked for Cuala on Saturday, even their misfortune. Paul Schutte was a major loss before throw-in with a hand injury yet the realignment in defence with Seán Moran switched to centre-back neutralised Slaughtneil's primary method of attack: long, straight puck-outs.
By the end, as the likes of Colm Cronin, David Treacy and Mark Schutte feasted on the space and ball they were gifted, Moran was TG4's Man of the Match and Slaughtneil's forwards were gasping for any sort of possession.
Assault Indeed for all the good vibes generated by Slaughtneil's twin All-Ireland assault, we saw some of the down sides of having such a hefty dual battalion on Saturday.
"Our touch wasn't as sharp as theirs, our striking wasn't as sharp," their manager Michael McShane admitted afterwards.
It showed. Two weeks earlier, eight of his starting team had been in the football team who had beaten St Vincent's and remarkably 13 of the team that lost to Cuala on Saturday will be in the football squad on St Patrick's Day.
McShane noted that his team had been "slow to the breaking ball," adding "that was (because) of a lack of challenge games."
"Coming into this," he explained, "we hadn't a challenge game other than in-house, in the last five weeks. It makes it very difficult."
Yet for all that, he only really suggested that a more conventional build-up would have lifted Slaughtneil's performance levels, not changed the result.
"Some days you are beaten by the better team," McShane added. "I am just bitterly disappointed for the players. They a very good team and today, unfortunately, they were just too good for us."
SCORERS - Cuala: D Treacy 0-8 (7f), C O'Callaghan 1-3, S Treacy 1-1, N Carty 1-0, C Cronin 0-3, N Kenny, J Sheanon, S Moran (f), D O'Connell, M Schutte, N Waldron (f) 0-1 each. Slaughtneil: C O'Doherty 0-5 (2f, 1 '65), G Bradley 1-2, S McGuigan 1-0, B Rodgers, C McKaigue 0-2 each.
CUALA - S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, S Timlin; K Malone, S Moran, J Sheanon; D O'Connell, C Cronin; S Treacy, C Sheanon, D Treacy; C Waldron, Con O'Callaghan, M Schutte. Subs: N Kenny for C Waldon (45), N Carty for C Sheanon (53), N Waldron for D Treacy (58), R Tierney for J Sheanon (59), S Stapleton for S Treacy (59).
SLAUGHTNEIL - O O'Doherty; C McAllister, Shane McGuigan, P McNeill; S Cassidy, Karl McKaigue, M McGrath; E Cassidy, G Bradley; C McKaigue, M McGuigan, M McKenna; Sé McGuigan, B Rodgers, C O'Doherty. Subs: B Cassidy for M McGuigan (h-t), R McCartney for Cassidy (43).
REF - C Lyons (Cork)