Treacy holds nerve late on as Cuala retain title in thriller
Cuala 2-17 Na Piarsaigh 1-17
Cuala became just the fifth club to win back-to-back All-Ireland club hurling titles when they secured a three-point win over Na Piarsaigh in an epic replay that will go down as one of the classic finals.
The Dublin side defended their title with pride, passion and no little skill as two late frees from David Treacy and a point from Mark Schutte meant they held on to the Tommy Moore Cup in another thriller in Portlaoise.
Cuala appeared to have the game won when blitzing Na Piarsaigh with two goals in a minute early in the second half.
But the Limerick club would not lie down and fought their way back into the match as Cuala's possession game faltered and the Dublin champions fell victim to finish-line fever.
Losing was a bitter pill for the Limerick side to swallow, none more so than Adrian Breen, their superb corner-forward who scored five points from play over the hour.
He was a worthy man of the match and Shane Dowling and Cathal King were other heroes for the champions of two years ago.
But losing would have been rough on Cuala too as they had to play the second half into a strong breeze that only picked up at half-time.
Cuala might have lost the contest as Treacy misplaced his radar in that exciting second half, and missed three frees in total.
Centre-back Sean Moran, full-back Cian O'Callaghan and midfielder Jake Malone were on form for Cuala.
And when they needed him, 'King Con' O'Callaghan came good at the end, winning two vital balls that led to fouls and those crucial Treacy scores that won the contest. Now the talented dual star has yet another medal to add to an incredible collection at just 21 years of age.
Paul Schutte was a late addition to the starting Cuala team as the respective All-Ireland club champions of 2016 and 2017 did battle again to see who would be the best in 2018.
But it was his brother Mark who got the first point of the match as Cuala got off to a flier.
It was proving to be a fluid match, with all of Cuala's half-back line on the scoreboard by the 17th minute.
One of Na Piarsaigh's corner-backs was there too as positions meant little with the teams swapping points at will.
The star of the first half was Breen, who scored four points from play and roasted two different markers in the first half-hour.
Cuala were playing the better hurling and had the greater spread of scorers with six players on the scoresheet by the break. Yet inaccuracy with passes out of defence gifted a couple of easy points to Na Piarsaigh which Shane Dowling and David Breen were delighted to take.
As the teams trooped off at half-time, with Cuala a point to the good, a neighbour in the press box said "we could be here all night, this has extra-time written all over it".
With both teams happy to play with a sweeper, the goal chance that might have opened up the contest was nowhere to be seen early on. And then, like slow buses, two appeared, both for Cuala, and Mattie Kenny's side moved into pole position.
The first came from a defensive mistake after Na Piarsaigh's defenders got the better of a ruck near their own end line. But in attempting to slip the sliotar away, wing-back Kieran Kennedy hand-passed the ball straight to Cuala substitute Nicky Kenny, who unerringly dispatched his shot to the corner of the Na Piarsaigh net.
Straight from the puck-out the ball was won by Cuala and transferred to Mark Schutte, who beat two men and blasted home a great goal.
That seemed to be that but Na Piarsaigh refused to lie down and Cuala, sensing victory, fell back and allowed their opponents to pick off three of the next four points.
And then Na Piarsaigh scored a great goal through David Breen.
By now they had moved Shane Dowling from midfield to the attack, where he operates for Limerick.
Suddenly the scores were level again and this match did indeed look like it would go on all night.
Na Piarsaigh inched ahead off a Dowling free, but Con O'Callaghan stepped up when needed with the leveller.
Then those two Treacy frees and an excellent score from Mark Schutte finished off a brilliant game as Na Piarsaigh's brave fightback came up just short.
It was a great game, indeed two great games in a week, between these teams with the hurling not far off inter-county standard. But Cuala claimed the spoils and their reward is getting to keep the cup in Dalkey for another year.
Scorers - Cuala: D Treacy 0-9 (7fs, 1 65); M Schutte 1-2; N Kenny 1-0; Con O'Callaghan 0-2; J Sheanon, D O'Connell, S Moran, J Malone 0-1 each. Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling (4fs), A Breen 0-5 each; D Breen 1-0, P Casey, K Downes 0-2 each; C Boylan, G Browne, D Dempsey 0-1 each.
Cuala: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, S Timlin; D O'Connell, S Moran, J Sheanon; J Malone, S Treacy; D Treacy, C Cronin, C Sheanon; M Schutte, Con O'Callaghan, P Schutte. Subs: N Kenny for C Sheanon (26), S Stapleton for P Schutte (28).
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: T Grimes for M Casey (32), C Boylan for Lynch (39), G Brown for Buckley (40), M Foley for Boylan (59).
Referee: P O'Dwyer (Carlow)
Sunday Indo Sport