NA PIARSAIGH (Limerick) 2-19 - CUALA (Dublin) 1-22 (after extra time): Two things you don’t often see at Croke Park; snow on St Patrick’s Day and Con O’Callaghan wasting chances for scores.
Buffeted by high winds, the white stuff swirled in the air as O’Callaghan shot for a winning point from out on the right wing with the last puck of the game on Saturday.
But, just like a few minutes earlier when Cuala’s boy wonder had miscued an even easier effort, the football All-Star failed to make Na Piarsaigh pay and the final whistle sounded.
David Treacy’s equaliser, at the end of the allotted 20 minutes of extra-time, ultimately ensured there’ll be a replay, probably next Saturday, at a venue yet to be confirmed.
King Con, for once, wasn’t the story - and that was a story in itself. He was aiming for a ninth trophy in the space of 12 months in what was his 26th major game in that period.
Remarkably, he’s still lost just one of those fixtures though having scored at least a point in each of those matches he was in danger of blotting that particular record on Saturday.
An hour passed without an O’Callaghan score before eventually, 10 seconds into extra-time, he finally split the posts.
To the 21-year-old’s credit, he did win three frees also which Treacy converted.
Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill wasn’t exactly glowing with praise for O’Callaghan afterwards, saying he wasn’t overly concerned when the full-forward had that opportunity to win the decider.
“I thought we had dealt with Con fairly well, and he had actually hit another couple of shots short so, no, it wasn’t a heart in the mouth at that stage,” said O’Neill. “Possibly if it was one of the cleaner strikers that they have, possibly then, yeah.”
Michael Carton, the former Dublin defender, suggested beforehand that Cuala would win, and with plenty to spare. Carton reckoned their speedy players like O’Callaghan and Kerry man Darragh O’Connell would give Na Piarsaigh a tour of Croke Park but it was hard to see it ever turning out like that, not with such talent and experience in Na Piarsaigh’s ranks.
They have never lost a game in Munster and were All-Ireland champions just two years ago.
In fact, when it went to extra-time, O’Neill thought his team were best placed to benefit from the extra 20 minutes.
“We didn’t have to say much to them at that stage,” said O’Neill. “After full-time, going into two periods of extra-time, we were extremely fit. They had fellas falling all over the pitch whereas we had the same 15 standing strong. We were there two years ago with Oulart-The Ballagh and blew them away in extra-time so we had no fears of extra-time.”
The previous four finals - including Cuala’s shellacking of Ballyea last year - were all relatively one-sided encounters.
Na Piarsaigh were just the better team on Saturday but there was very little in it.
O’Neill seemed to suggest afterwards that referee Colm Lyons had a hand in keeping Cuala in the contest.
Lyons awarded Cuala a free for a foul on Colm Cronin in the fourth minute of injury-time which Sean Moran slammed to the net to bring the game to extra-time at 1-16 apiece.
It was from another free, for a foul on Moran, that Treacy lofted over the 80th-minute equaliser, ensuring the sides will do it all again.
“I would say he would be extremely disappointed with his performance,” said O’Neill of referee Lyons. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
Cuala manager Mattie Kenny had no problem with Lyons’ handling of the game.
“There were times when I thought we could have got frees but I thought he let the game flow very well, most of the time,” said Kenny. “Sometimes, when we lose, we look for reasons but I didn’t think he was an influence one way or the other, to be honest.”
Both sides will fancy their chances for the rematch, wherever it’s played. Na Piarsaigh feel they were the better side on Saturday while Cuala suspect they have plenty more in the tank.
Na Piarsaigh had more players who won their individual battles. Mike Casey was terrific on O’Callaghan while both Dempseys - sweeper Alan and attacker David - covered huge yardage. David scored two points in injury-time and set up David Breen’s 62nd minute goal.
Shane Dowling had a strong game too, scoring two of his six points from play and urging his team on all the time.
Na Piarsaigh rotated their forwards though it was only when they committed fully to attack in the final 20 minutes or so, going man for man with Cuala, that they really got on top.
They outscored Cuala 0-6 to 0-2 between the 44th and 60th minutes and, leading 1-16 to 0-16, a second title in three seasons seemed a certainty.
But four minutes into injury-time, a patient passing move was rewarded with a free for Cuala for an apparent foul on Cronin and Moran was brought forward to release his sidewinder which deflected off a Na Piarsaigh hurley to the net.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh:
S. Dowling (0-6, 4 frees); P. Casey (1-2); A. Breen & K. Downes (0-4 each); D. Breen (1-0); D. Dempsey (0-2); D. Breen (0-1).
Scorers for Cuala:
D. Treacy (0-12, 12 frees); S. Treacy (0-3); Con O’Callaghan, M. Schutte, C. Cronin, J. Malone, D. O’Connell, Colum Sheanon, N. Kenny (0-1 each).
P. Kennedy; N. Buckley, M. Casey, A. Dempsey; K. Kennedy, C. King (C), J Boylan; W. O’Donoghue, R. Lynch; S. Dowling, D. Breen, P. Casey; D. Dempsey, K. Downes, A. Breen.
K. Ryan for P. Casey (9-12 & 20-21, blood); M. Foley for Buckley (70+1). G. Brown for Boylan (77), K. Ryan for Kennedy (80).
S. Brennan; O. Gough, C. O’Callagahn, P. Schutte (C); J. Sheanon, S. Moran, D. O’Connell; J. Malone, S. Treacy; N. Kenny, C. Cronin, D. Treacy; Colum Sheanon, Con O’Callaghan, M. Schutte.
S. Stapleton for J. Sheanon (48); N. Carty for Kenny (53); C. Waldron for Malone (62). Kenny for Carty (e/t), Malone for Waldron (e/t); S. Timlin for S. Treacy (67), D. O Flynn for Cronin (69), S. Treacy for Kenny (75).
C. Lyons (Cork).
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