Cuala (Dublin) 1-17 Liam Mellows (Galway) 0-11: The champions of the last two years will meet in the All-Ireland club hurling final, but it will take a monumental performance from Na Piarsaigh to deny this Cuala team a two-in-a-row.
Like a well-oiled machine, Mattie Kenny’s side accounted for Liam Mellows in convincing fashion on Saturday afternoon.
Tight at the back, powerful at midfield and blessed with silky skills up front, Cuala never looked stressed with this semi-final, their debut in Semple Stadium.
Kenny pointed to his defence as the reason they won the game — Mellows only scored three points from play — but in Con O’Callaghan they possess one of the game’s finest talents.
His four points all came from play and he showed all the skills of the game: Speed, strength, a sweet touch and outstanding aerial ability. What would Pat Gilroy give to have such a talented target man at his disposal on the inter-county scene.
“That’s his role. He is an exceptional talent, he’s a really good player. That’s his position,” said Kenny of his full forward.
“There are lots of lads trying to make the space for him and deliver that quality ball for him. Any good inside forward is about the quality of ball you can get into him. If we can get good quality of ball into him and a couple of the others, you’d be hoping they’d score off it.
“I thought our defence was really strong (on Saturday). They were the platform, our six backs did really well. They limited Mellows’ forwards to three of four points from play. Forwards often get the plaudits but it is everyone working for the team and everyone putting their shoulder to the wheel.”
Kenny was correct in his assessment of O’Callaghan’s teammates creating space around him, as his three first-half points came from accurate, direct ball into him, which left his marker Mike Conneely isolated, despite the Galway champions having David Collins on sweeping duties.
Further scores from Colum Sheanon and Nicky Kenny helped Cuala into a 0-8 to 0-6 half-time lead and although Mellows kept in touch with Adrian Morrissey in superb free-taking form, they were living off scraps.
This has already been a season to remember for the Galway city club. They won their first county title since 1970 and can now go back and build from the wonderful underage foundations which they have put in place.
And there is no shame in falling to the best, according to their manager Louis Mulqueen.
“We came out of Galway but we came up against, probably, the best team in Ireland,” said Mulqueen.
“Looking at it, we came up to do our best, we came up to perform as good as humanly possible. I think it is a learning curve.”
With a two-point lead to protect, Cuala emerged in the second-half and hit the next five points to pull seven clear, which was the winning of the game.
Aonghus Callanan and Morrissey kept Mellows alive, but points from Diarmuid O’Flynn, David Treacy and Brian Fitzgerald’s late goal meant they were never troubled.
Scorers for Cuala:
D Treacy 0-7 (0-4f, 0-1 65), Con O’Callaghan 0-4, B Fitzgerald 1-0, M Schutte 0-1, C Sheanon 0-1, N Kenny 0-1, D O’Connell 0-1, S Treacy 0-1, D O’Flynn 0-1.
Scorers for Liam Mellows:
A Morrissey 0-7 (0-7f), A Callanan 0-2, T Haran 0-1 (0-1f), C Kavanagh 0-1.
S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O’Callaghan, S Timlin; J Sheanon, S Moran, M Schutte; J Malone, D O’Connell; S Treacy, C Cronin, D Treacy; C Sheanon, Con O’Callaghan, N Kenny.
Subs for Cuala:
C Waldron for C Sheanon (44), D O’Flynn for Timlin (44), N Carty for Kenny (52), B Fitzgerald for Schutte (57), R Tierney for Cian O’Callaghan (65).
K Walsh; C Reilly, M Conneely, S Morrissey; M Hughes, D Collins (jc), S Barrett; J Hastings, K Lee; C Hynes, T Haran, R Elwood; A Morrissey, A Callanan (jc), C Kavanagh.
Subs for Liam Mellows:
J Forde for Hynes (41), D Fahy for R Elwood (44), S Killeen for Kavanagh (58), B Leen for Conneely (61), C Elwood for Haran (63).
P O’Dwyer (Carlow).
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