Cian O’Callaghan might be talking up Na Piarsaigh to lower their guard, just hours out from an AIB All-Ireland club hurling final.
It’s just as likely that his kind words about the Limerick outfit are genuine, because there isn’t much difference between hurling’s two heavyweight clubs.
Like Na Piarsaigh in Munster, who have won four of the last seven provincial titles, Cuala are the dominant force in Leinster, having contested the last three finals and having won the last two.
Both are city outfits — all clubs in Dublin could probably claim that status, in fairness — and enjoy high representation on their respective county squads.
The clearest tie that binds these two clubs is that they have both won their first All-Ireland in the last two years.
Cuala, of course, did it 12 months ago and they return to Croke Park, tomorrow, as holders, while Na Piarsaigh made their breakthrough a year earlier, in 2016.
The bookmakers make Na Piarsaigh slight favourites this time, their record of never experiencing defeat in the Munster championship perhaps just giving them the edge.
“Every year they’ve gotten out of Limerick, they’ve gone on to win Munster, which is kind of frightening,” said O’Callaghan, the Cuala and Dublin defender. “It shows the calibre of everything going on there: the players, the management, the training, the ethos of what the club is about.
“We do expect them to be really strong. With ourselves, we’ve been lucky that we’ve got things right in the last three years, after a long barren stretch. But we want to keep going and to make sure things keep going well in the next few years.”
Another common thread between the two clubs is that they both struggled to regain a spark, after winning their All-Ireland crowns.
Na Piarsaigh didn’t even make it out of their group, when they returned to local championship action, after the 2016 triumph.
Cuala, obviously, fared better, after last year’s win, though they did lose to Ballyboden St Enda’s in their first game as All-Ireland, Leinster, and Dublin champions, before regaining their mojo, through summer and autumn.
“It definitely does take a bit of time,” said O’Callaghan. “You’re in a bubble for the five weeks leading up to it. And for the last two or three days before the final, it gets a bit surreal. It’s really only two or three weeks later that it sinks in that you’re All-Ireland champions. Then, it’s time to park it and do it all over again.
“That’s the approach that we’ve taken. We sat down, at the start of the year, and said, ‘fair enough, we were All-Ireland champions last year. But that’s in the past. What are we going to do in our next match’?”
It’s worked for Cuala, who edged a few tight tussles in the Dublin championship, before steaming through Leinster again and taking out Liam Mellows, with ease, in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Still, the Dalkey outfit are underdogs, though O’Callaghan, older brother of dual star, Con, who will be a focal point of their attack tomorrow, says they are driven to succeed. “Our hunger is massive this year,” he said. “It’s just as big, if not bigger, than last year. You don’t want to be known as the team that won a flukey All-Ireland, or a flukey anything. Having said that, I’m sure Na Piarsaigh want it as much as we do.
“It comes down to simple decisions on the day and making the right ones.”
Cian’s sibling, Con, has been making a lot of those good decisions for a long time now.
He’s played 25 major games over the last 13 months and won 24 of them, scoring at least a point in them all. That’s led to eight different trophies, the most recent of which was the Sigerson Cup, with UCD, last month.
“Con’s very much his own man. He doesn’t need to bounce ideas off me,” said Cian, of his All-Star brother. “He’s wiser than I am.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved