CUALA (Dublin) 2-17 NA PIARSAIGH (Limerick) 1-17: Cuala captain Paul Schutte reckons the south Dubliners deserve to be classed among club hurling’s greats after joining an elite group by capturing back-to-back AIB All-Ireland titles.
Only Sarsfields (1994), Athenry (2001), Birr (2003) and Portumna (2009) before them have managed to hold onto the Tommy Moore Cup.
Cuala looked like relinquishing their grasp on the trophy at various stages throughout two epic encounters with the 2016 winners.
Across those 140 minutes or so of action, the sides were level 17 times, eight on Saturday and nine in the drawn game at Croke Park.
In fact, Cuala looked down and out a couple of times and conceded both the lead and precious momentum when they went from six points up with 15 minutes to go on Saturday to trailing by one in the 60th minute.
They showed the hallmark of true champions at the death to reel off four points without reply in a five-minute spell, big guns Con O’Callaghan, David Treacy and Mark Schutte all coming good when it counted.
“I’ve always felt that we were a great team but now we have something to back it up,” said skipper Schutte. “It’s for the rest of Ireland to see that we’re a great team.
“If you want to be taken as a great team then you have to be seen to be pushing and showing great character. We should have probably lost the first game. We rode our luck a little but it was great character from the lads to never give up and just keep going and going and we got the reward.”
The famous win was also tinged with disappointment for 29-year-old Schutte who admitted after lifting the cup he’s facing up to six months out.
He missed the semi-final win over Liam Mellows with hamstring trouble and patched it up to start both finals.
He limped off before half-time in Portlaoise on Saturday and could now miss all of Dublin’s first Championship campaign under Pat Gilroy.
“I knew I was very lucky just to play in the two finals,” said Schutte.
“I tore my hamstring off the bone in the Leinster final. I didn’t train at all. I only did about 10 minutes of the warm-up before the match, that was the sum total of it.
“I actually thought I’d be lucky to get 10 minutes of the drawn final so to come through that entire game I was delighted. I suppose it was just a bit too much with the back-to-back weekends for me.
“As I say, it came off the bone so I’d say it could be another four or six-month spell for me now, I’d say.”
Asked if that means missing out on the Championship with Dublin, Schutte nodded: “It probably will, yeah.”
Na Piarsaigh chief Shane O’Neill said he wouldn’t rule out three-in-a-row for the talented Dalkey side next year.
Victorious Cuala boss Mattie Kenny stopped short of agreeing but said it’s sweet when practice makes perfect as it has for his team.
“Setting targets and going on to actually achieve them are two completely different things,” said Kenny. “As time goes on, this group of players is getting so experienced. They’ve come through really tough periods and some tough matches. That keeps building character in the group.”
Kenny said they got their tactics spot on this time.
“In the wide open spaces of Croke Park, Na Piarsaigh closed down our attack,” said the former Galway selector. “So we worked hard to open up their defence and to try to create space for ourselves. I think we were successful in doing that.”
Adrian Breen and Shane Dowling were terrific for Na Piarsaigh and contributed five points each.
The Munster champions trailed 0-10 to 0-9 at half-time and by six when Cuala slammed two goals in less than 60 seconds in the 39th minute.
Sub Nicky Kenny got the first after a mistake by Tommy Grimes in the Na Piarsaigh defence and Mark Schutte grabbed the second after a stunning solo run down the left moments later.
That put Cuala 2-11 to 0-11 clear and they retained the six-point lead with 45 minutes on the clock.
It looked like paving the way for the title holders to enjoy the final few moments in front of their vocal crowd though Na Piarsaigh dominated the last 15 minutes of normal time, outscoring Cuala 1-5 to 0-1.
David Breen pinched a goal after good work by Dowling and suddenly it looked like a second title in three seasons for the Limerick men.
But when the need was greatest, Cuala dug deep and reeled off four points in a row to seal a remarkable win.
Dual star Con O’Callaghan, who’d slipped and miscued a number of times and scored just once, suddenly burst into life and sniped the first of those four points.
He also won a free that Treacy converted and made a great catch to set up Mark Schutte as Na Piarsaigh were finally subdued.
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Scorers for Cuala: D Treacy (0-9, 7 f, 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).
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling (4 f) and A Breen (0-5 each); D Breen (1-0); K Downes & P Casey (0-2 each); J Boylan, G Brown & D Dempsey (0-1 each).
CUALA: S Brennan; S Timlin, Cian O’Callaghan, O Gough; P Schutte, S Moran, J Sheanon; D O’Connell, S Treacy; D Treacy, C Cronin, J Malone; Con O’Callaghan, M Schutte, C Sheanon.
Subs: N Kenny for C Sheanon (25); S Stapleton for P Schutte (28).
NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; N Buckley, M. Casey, A Dempsey; J Boylan, C King, K Kennedy; W O’Donoghue, D Dempsey; S Dowling, R Lynch, D Breen; A Breen, K Downes, P Casey.
Subs: T Grimes for M Casey (31); C Boylan for Lynch (40); G Brown for Buckley (41); M Foley for J Boylan (59).
Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).
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