O'Callaghan quality puts classy Cuala in control
Cuala 2-20 Dicksboro 1-16
Mattie Kenny says he can't understand it when people ask if his all-conquering Cuala have lost any of their hunger since going the All-Ireland distance last March.
Yesterday's supremely controlled performance in Parnell Park answered that question more emphatically than anything the Galway man could add to the debate.
In previous years, a provincial opener against the champions of Kilkenny would have been viewed with trepidation by Dublin counterparts, but Cuala are a different beast.
Eight days earlier they had emerged from a county final war of attrition with Kilmacud. Here they reminded us all that they can stamp their class on a more expansive contest, running up 2-20 (2-12 from play) on a sun-kissed November afternoon in Donnycarney.
Dicksboro battled bravely but were chasing all the way and, in truth, never looked capable of matching the power or penetration of the Dalkey men.
No surprise there, as this was just seven days after their first Kilkenny SHC success in 24 years.
The gulf in big-time experience was evident, but just as impressive was Cuala's appetite. With Darragh O'Connell leaving a huge midfield imprint from the start, Seán Moran bursting out of defence time and again, and Con O'Callaghan reminding us all of his lust for plunder in whatever code takes his fancy, they carried the gait of a team that will relish its defence of Leinster - and possibly beyond.
"Cuala, as a club, had hurling success 23-24 years ago," said Kenny when the 'hunger' question was broached.
"Now, in the last three years, we're finding ourselves in a position where we've won three county titles.
"Our time has come and while the opportunity is there for us, we need to push on and try to achieve as much as we can."
No one could query the merit of their seven-point victory; Dicksboro boss Mark Dowling didn't even try.
"It's a huge learning curve for us. We were definitely beaten by a better side," he admitted.
Cuala's reward is a semi-final home date with St Martin's of Wexford on November 19. They were forced to start without Mark Schutte because of a persistent ankle injury that threatens his participation the next day.
Nicky Kenny proved a lively replacement in a forward line that troubled Dicksboro on several fronts.
Still, there was no mistaking the main man. After David Treacy nailed his first two deadball opportunities, O'Callaghan announced his presence with a soaring catch and run on goal.
On that occasion he settled for a fifth-minute point; soon after he left Evan Cody trailing in his wake, only to flash a presentable goal chance wide.
That forced Dicksboro into early remedial action, pushing Cillian Buckley back on to Cuala's go-to man.
"We'd hoped to maybe play him in the pocket in front of the full-back, but when you're up against a good side you're trying to put out fires here and there," Dowling explained.
The Dicksboro dam burst in the 15th minute as Colum Sheanon released O'Callaghan through on goal. Even though he failed to get his shot away, the ball broke invitingly for Jake Malone to sweep home, first time.
To their credit the Kilkenny men dug in against the elements. With Oisín Gough (the Dicksboro version) particularly prominent, they drew the second quarter six points apiece to leave them 1-10 to 0-8 adrift.
Dowling pronounced himself "happy enough" at the break - perhaps even more so after Robbie Murphy trimmed the deficit to four.
But then O'Callaghan left Buckley in his slipstream for a statement point, and there was no way back for Dicksboro after his 45th-minute goal; he was left with a routine far-post finish after incisive build-up play from Seán Treacy and Malone.
The Young Footballer of the Year would finish with 1-3 from play; he was also fouled for four of Treacy's eight frees and chipped in with 1-1 in assists. Not bad for a 'part-time' hurler.
Not even a 1-2 flurry late on - two Shane Stapleton '65s' and a 56th-minute goal from sub Stephen Farrell - could ignite an unlikely comeback.
"Any club player worth his salt has to love being involved at this time of year," Kenny reflected. "October is the month for winning championships. Now we're gone into November - this is the time for provincial matches.
"You're all year training for this, the business end of the season, and if you haven't got the hunger then you shouldn't be playing this game."
Scorers - Cuala: D Treacy 0-9 (8fs), Con O'Callaghan 1-3, J Malone 1-0, C Cronin 0-3, N Kenny, N Carty 0-2 each, D O'Connell 0-1.
Dicksboro: S Stapleton 0-8 (5f, 3 '65s'); S Farrell 1-0; O Gough, E Gough, R Murphy 0-2 each; M Gaffney, O Walsh 0-1 each.
CUALA - S Brennan; S Timlin, Cian O'Callaghan, O Gough; J Sheanon, S Moran, P Schutte; D O'Connell, S Treacy; C Sheanon, D Treacy, J Malone; C Cronin, Con O'Callaghan, N Kenny. Subs: N Carty for Kenny (52), C Waldron for C Sheanon (55).
DICKSBORO - D Holohan; C Doheny, E Cody, M Fagan; T Kenny, C Buckley, A Nolan; O Walsh, R Fitzpatrick; R Murphy, E Gough, S Stapleton; O Gough, M Gaffney, B Sheehan. Subs: K Kenny for E Gough (44), S Farrell for Murphy (44), P O'Flynn for Nolan (52).
REF - P Murphy (Carlow).