AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final finishes level after extra-time
AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Final
CUALA 1-22 NA PIARSAIGH 2-19
By John Harrington at Croke Park
On a freezing day in Croke Park, Cuala and Na Piarsaigh served up a game of hurling to warm the heart in this afternoon’s epic AIB All-Ireland Club Final.
The meeting of the 2017 champions and the 2016 champions was hyped as a real clash of the titans, and it more than lived up to billing.
The physicality was absolutely ferocious as both teams fought for every ball like hungry dogs, and despite the frigid conditions there was still plenty of skill and flair too.
They slugged it like heavyweights out for over 80 minutes but still couldn’t be separated, and so will have to do it all over again with a replay date and venue still yet to be confirmed.
Cold hands don’t lend themselves to wristy hurling and the biting easterly wind ensured a slow-burning start to the match rather than a quick ignition.
Cuala were the better team for the first quarter of the match though, as they settled into the sort of metronomic rhythm we’re used to from them.
Like many other clubs before them, Na Piarsaigh were finding out that the Dublin club’s formation is a difficult one to get your head around.
They play with a two-man full-forward line but it’s not a rigid set-up, there’s a lot of movement, so as a defender you need to have eyes in the back of your head when you play against them.
Na Piarsaigh played it safe by keeping three men in their full-back line, one of them free to mop up breaking ball, but even then they found it hard to get a grip on the Cuala forwards and so trailed by 0-4 to 0-1 by the 12th minute.
Some of Cuala’s inter-play in this period was very sharp as they picked their way through the Na Piarsaigh lines with clever short-passing and athletic support play.
Midfield Sean Treacy always looked dangerous when he broke from deep and his 12th minute point was the best score of the first quarter.
And Con O’Callaghan was proving a menace too whenever he got his hand on the ball, winning two early frees that David Treacy pointed.
Gradually, though, Na Piarsaigh started to get to grips with the challenge that Cuala presented.
Their half-forwards and midfield upped their work-rate to ensure their men didn’t have time to get their heads up and pick a pass.
And once Cuala were forced to clear their lines under pressure it made life easier on the Na Piarsaigh defenders at the other end of the field who began winning 50-50 tussles with greater regularity.
Now they were the ones sending in accurate deliveries to their forwards, and players like Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling, Peter Casey, and Adrian Breen were in the mood to make the most of it.
Between them, that quartet would hit six points from play in the first-half which helped the Limerick team into a 0-8 to 0-6 half-time lead.
Na Piarsaigh landed the last four points of the half, so they went to their dressing-room with the momentum very much behind them.
They looked in even better shape when Peter Casey scored the first goal of the match four minutes into the second-half to increase their lead by four points.
He left John Sheanon for dead with a delightful side-step, raced towards goal, and placed the ball past the advancing Sean Brennan.
A big set-back for Cuala, but they responded very positively. They were helped somewhat by the elements in this endeavour, a strengthening wind now at their backs.
They made the most of it by shooting on sight as soon as they had possession inside the Na Piarsiagh half, and the points quickly clocked up thanks to some clinical finishing.
They scored five in a row between the 37th and 43rd minutes, and now it was the Dublin team who looked like they had all the momentum.
Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill responded by making a brave tactical switch. He went man for man which meant the Limerick team were now effectively playing with a two-man full-back line.
Risky business when one of the Cuala inside forwards is goal-machine Con O’Callaghan, but it paid immediate dividends.
Almost immediately Na Piarsaigh started winning more ball in the middle third of the field and when they hit it in the direction of their own forwards it was sticking because they were no longer outnumbered by Cuala defenders.
Na Piarsaigh dominated the fourth quarter of the match and looked on course for victory when a Shane Dowling free put them 1-16 to 0-16 ahead in the final minute of normal time.
Dowling had a chance to bury Cuala for good when he took another long-range free in the first minute of injury-time, but it went to the left and wide.
And so, the scene was set for late drama when Cuala won a close range free in the third and final minute of injury-time.
Centre-back Sean Moran was summoned to take it and his chances of success looked slim.
He could hardly see the net there were so many light-blue Na Piarsaigh jersies packed into their goal, but he still somehow found it as his fiercely struck shot deflected in via the hurley of Na Piarsaigh goalkeeper Podge Kennedy.
A few seconds later the final whistle blew with the scores deadlocked - Cuala 1-16 Na Piarsaigh 1-16 - and so we were all set for extra-time.
Con O’Callaghan edged Cuala ahead at the start of the first period of extra-time but then Na Piarsaigh landed a heavier blow when David Breen scored a fine goal after great support play from Shane Dowling and David Dempsey.
Points from Mark Schutte and David Treacy levelled the game again, and thereafter it was a nip and tuck, nerve-shredding sort of contest.
Na Piarsaigh looked the slightly better team in extra-time, but Cuala stubbornly refused to throw in the towel.
They trailed by a point at half-time in extra-time and by the same margin still going into the final minute of the second-half of extra-time, before that man Treacy levelled the game for one last time with his 12th converted free of the match.
He had to show a lot of bottle to land it too. He was 60 yards out and hitting into a strong wind, but he struck it straight and true.
Cuala actually had a chance in the additional minute of injury-time to win it when Con O’Callaghan shot on the run, but he didn’t quite strike the ball on the meat.
It would have been very tough on Na Piarsaigh to lose the match in that moment.
After a joust as epic as this one, it seems only right that these two gladiators have to chance to draw swords again on a new battlefield and settle it once and for all.
Scorers for Cuala: David Treacy 0-12 (all frees), Sean Moran 1-0 (f), Sean Treacy 0-3, Colm Cronin 0-1, Colum Sheanon 0-1, Mark Schutte 0-1, Con O’Callaghan 0-1, Nicky Kenny 0-1, Jake Malone 0-1, Darragh O’Connell 0-1.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: Shane Dowling 0-6 (4f), Peter Casey 1-2, David Breen 1-1, Adrian Breen 0-4, Kevin Downes 0-4, David Dempsey 0-2
CUALA: Sean Brennan; Oisin Gough, Cian O’Callaghan, Simon Timlin; Darragh O’Connell, Sean Moran, John Sheanon; Jake Malone, Sean Treacy; David Treacy, Colm Cronin, Colum Sheanon; Mark Schutte, Con O’Callaghan, Nicky Kenny. Subs: Shane Stapleton for John Sheanon (48), Niall Carty for Nicky Kenny (53), Nicky Kenny for Niall Carty (60), Jake Malone for Cian Waldron (60), Cian Waldron for Jake Malone (62), Simon Timlin for Sean Treacy (66), Diarmuid O’Flynn for Colm Cronin (68), Sean Treacy for Nicky Kenny (74)
NA PIARSAIGH: Podge Kennedy; Jerome Boylan, Mike Casey, Niall Buckley; Alan Dempsey, Cathal King, Kieran Kennedy; Shane Dowling, William O’Donoghue; Ronan Lynch, David Breen, David Dempsey; Adrian Breen, Kevin Downes, Peter Casey. Subs: Mike Foley for Niall Buckley (70), Gordon Brown for Jerome Boylan (76), Kevin Ryan for Kieran Kennedy (80).
Ref: Colm Lyons (Cork)