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From rags to riches - charting the amazing rise of Leinster club hurling finalists Cuala

The Dublin champions are preparing for a provincial final against Oulart-the-Ballagh.

Cuala players Rob Reid, Oisin Gough and Bobby Browne celebrate winning the Dublin SHC title.
Cuala players Rob Reid, Oisin Gough and Bobby Browne celebrate winning the Dublin SHC title.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

BACK IN THE darker days of the late 1990s, Cuala chairman Declan Murray recalls a club membership of roughly 300 people.

There were a couple of hurling teams and one football team struggling in the Dublin backwaters of Divisions 5 and 6.

Now, the picture couldn’t be more different. Cuala are Dublin senior hurling champions and preparing for a Leinster final against Oulart-the-Ballagh on Sunday week.

Parnell Park on Sunday was a red-letter afternoon for the club. First off, Cuala beat Kilkenny champions Clara in the provincial hurling semi-final before the senior B footballers won the county title.

Murray now estimates that Cuala boasts 1850 members, 1500 of them players at various grades.

Minor football and hurling teams have county finals ahead of them over the next two weekends and a third football team is on the verge of promotion.

Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

A Cuala club member, Shane O’Brien, is manager of the Dublin senior camogie team and three of the club’s ladies football teams won county finals in 2015.

Based at Hyde Park on Hyde Road in Dalkey, Cuala is very much a club on the up and structures have been put in place to hopefully ensure that success continues long into the future.

“It’s the result of the last ten years of work in the club,” Murray explains.

“The work at juvenile and minor levels. We’ve had an explosion in membership going back around ten or 12 years, since the early 2000s.

“We put in place what you might call the methods for dealing with that and having each individual age group looked after.

“We came out the far end of that and all these young lads were playing hurling and football at a reasonably high level, mostly Division 1 in Dublin.

“They’ve now come through and then obviously the work that the adult section puts in, with Mattie Kenny as (hurling) coach, and his backroom staff, is hugely important.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We won the senior B championship on the football side of it and if you were to look at the development of hurling and football, hurling, to be fair to them, are two years ahead of the football.

“They spent a lot of time in Division 1, lost the county final two years ago against Kilmacud but the base was there from then.

“The footballers were promoted to Division 1 this year for the first time ever.

“We had hoped to stay in Division 1 and if we managed that, it would have been a successful year but we ended up safe with two games in hand, and then won the B championship.”

The backbone of the senior hurling team is home grown, with a sprinkling of players from other counties thrown into the mix.

Mattie Kenny Cuala manager Mattie Kenny. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Darragh O’Connell is a former Christy Ring Cup winner with Kerry who made his Dublin debut this year, Cian Waldron’s a Kilkenny man and Shane Stapleton, ruled out of the Clara game with a broken finger, hails from Tipp and is a brother of Premier County corner back Paddy.

One of the lazier accusations thrown at Cuala is that they need players from outside to compete but the aforementioned guys are based in the local area.

O’Connell, for example, was training with Cuala before throwing in his lot with the club at the start of the year. He’s living and working locally, as Waldron is.

“It’s not as if we went and said we’ll get them up here,” Murray says.

“In the olden days, you’d see lads with All-Ireland medals arriving from the back of beyond all of a sudden but the backbone of that team is homegrown talent, 95 per cent of them Cuala men, like the Treacys and the Schuttes. Jake Malone was a minor for me last year and a minor footballer as well, a superb footballer.”

Darragh O'Connell with Jack Langton Cuala's Kerry native Darragh O'Connell. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Cuala celebrated Sunday’s double success long into the night. They’ll take a couple of days off before getting back to business on the training pitch this week, with former Galway selector Kenny pulling the strings.

“There’s a guy who works in Aer Lingus, Micheál O’Gralaigh from Galway, and he knew Mattie,” Murray recalls.

“We had a discussion two years ago and we decided that we saw the talent coming through and in order to give them the best possible hope, we said we’d go out and see what coaches were available and who would be a good fit for Cuala.

“He (Kenny) had a plan, he convinced us he was going to fit in and all the lads are 100 per cent behindhim.

“They don’t question any of his tactics, there’s no disharmony in the camp. It’s all a learning curve and every week he’s trying something new. It’s a very tight knit bunch of guys on and that first and second hurling team, they train together, play together, do everything together.”

And Murray is brimming with confidence ahead of the Oulart clash.

“I spoke to Mattie and his assistants last night and one of them wondered do these lads realise how good they really are?

David Treacy Cuala marksman David Treacy is a senior intercounty star with Dublin. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“They want to achieve something out of it, it’s a realisation that it could be a long time before we get a group like this again. They want to make the most of it for a couple of years.”

And when asked if Cuala can finish what they’ve started and become Leinster champions, Murray’s response is emphatic.

“Yes, I think we can. Everybody in the club would dearly love to be in Croke Park on Paddy’s Day but that’s a long way away.

“There’s huge belief there and if we can remain injury free, I think we’ve got the talent to do it.

“It’s great to see the 25/26 lads on the panel on the day and any 15 could play.

“You saw that on Sunday, a couple of lads came off, others came on and the team wasn’t getting any weaker.

“The way we like to look at it in the club, you start from a position where you’re building to an end game.

“The end game is to produce enough players of a high enough quality to compete at the highest level, playing for your county and playing in county finals, and winning them, before going on to pit yourself against the best around the country.

“We had six or seven lads on the county hurling team this year and we see no reason why we can’t drive on even further.”

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