Preview: Leinster Club SHC Final - Cuala v Kilcormac-Killoughey
AIB Leinster Club SHC Final
CUALA (Dublin) v KILCORMAC-KILLOUGHEY (Offaly), O'Moore Park, 2pm
Reigning All-Ireland champions Cuala will go into Sunday’s AIB Leinster SHC Final against Kilcormac-Killoughey as hot favourites.
The Dublin club have been imperious so far in the provincial campaign, swatting aside the challenge of Kilkenny champions Dicksboro and Wexford champions St. Martin’s with impressive ease.
Both of those clubs fancied their chances of scalping the All-Ireland champions, but they found out the hard way that Cuala’s combination of skill and grit is a really potent cocktail.
Kilcormac-Killoughey’s chances of pulling off a shock haven’t been helped by the suspension of midfielder Cillian Kiely who was red-carded in their semi-final win over Mount Leinster Rangers.
But even though the bookies have installed Cuala as 1/6 favourites, their defender Paul Schutte is wary of the challenge that 2012 Leinster champions Kilcormac-Killoughey will pose.
“There's huge experience in that team,” Schutte told GAA.ie “I was looking at their Leinster campaign for the previous five years they've been in it and they beat Ballyhale in their pomp, they beat Thurles Sarsfields. They've got a lot of big scalps.
“They've only conceded four goals in ten games so they keep it really tight in the backs. We're just looking for ways to penetrate that and keep the scoreboard ticking over. We're expecting a massive battle.”
Kilcormac-Killoughey will certainly be a harder nut to crack for Cuala than a slightly naïve St. Martin’s were in the semi-final.
The Wexford champions went two-on-two against the Cuala full-forward line which was asking for trouble considering the form that Con O’Callaghan has been in of late.
Kilcormac-Killoughey won’t make the same mistake. They’ll keep three men in the full-back line at all time and double-up on O’Callaghan as much as possible rather than detail one of their corner-backs to follow David Treacy out the field like St. Martin’s did.
The Offaly champions are a very solid team defensively, and hurling at this time of the year suits them because they’re a big, physical team all over the park.
“I'd say 12 of our starting 15 are over six foot,” Kilcormac-Killoughey full-forward Peter Healion told GAA.ie.
“Especially at this time of year it gets to a more physical game. You'd like to think we're that bit more experienced, we do have a great defence - we've a great keeper and the six backs are a solid unit.
“We take our chances, chase every ball, take the right score and give the ball to the man in the right position. It's the basics of hurling and if you get them right you won't be far away on any giving day.
“When it comes to winter hurling there's a lot of lads left behind. It's about the dog that wants it the most. It's a scenario of who works the hardest and who wins the dirty ball. It's not about who has the nicest, fanciest hurlers.
“You can have as many county stars as you want but unless it comes down to each man wanting it that's what it's going to come down to.”
The problem for Kilcormac-Killoughey is that Cuala are no shrinking violets themselves when it comes to the trench-warfare of winning hard ball on a heavy pitch.
You'll have to have that dog in you that will fight and win that hard ball
They back themselves to beat the opposition any which way. They can out-hurl the best as they proved against Ballyea in last February’s All-Ireland Final, but they’re just as comfortable going toe for toe against a physical team and beating them in an arm-wrestle of a contest.
“That's it,” said Schutte. “A lot of lads would have county experience so you're used to doing the strength and conditioning training with that. A lot of lads would be strong and athletic which you do need.
“You could be playing now in the depths of winter on a big muddy park so you'll have to have that dog in you that will fight and win that hard ball.
“Whereas at the same time if you want to go on and win on Paddy's Day you have to be able to play the lovely, fast hurling.
“So you can't just be one or the other, you need both types of skill-sets. That's what we needed last year and I'm sure that's what we'll need this year as well.”
Kilcormac-Killoughey will make Sunday’s Leinster Final a real battle, but there’s no doubt that Cuala’s favourite’s tag is justified.
This weekend's club fixtures
Saturday 2 December
AIB All-Ireland Club IHC quarter-final
Kilburn Gaels (Britain) v Kanturk (Cork), Ruislip, 1.30pm
AIB Leinster Club IHC Final
Ballyragget (Kilkenny) v Glenealy (Wicklow), Nowlan Park, 2pm
Sunday 3 December
Leinster Club SHC Final
Cuala (Dublin) v Kilcormac-Killoughey (Offaly), O'Moore Park, 2pm
Galway SHC Final
Gort v Liam Mellows, Pearse Stadium,. 2pm
Waterford SFC Final
The Nire v Stradbally, Fraher Field, 2pm
AIB Munster Club JFC Final
Dromid Pearses (Kerry) v Knocknagree (Cork), Mallow, 3.15pm
AIB Munster Club JHC Final
Ardmore (Waterford) v Ballybacon-Grange (Tipperary), Mallow, 1.30pm