Na Piarsaigh 1-17
Kevin O’Brien reports O’Moore Park, Portlaoise
CUALA BECAME JUST the eighth club in GAA history to defend their All-Ireland title and the first hurling side since Portumna in 2009 after a thrilling three-point win over Na Piarsaigh.
Extra-time couldn’t separate these teams in an enthralling drawn match in Croke Park and the replay in Portlaoise more than delivered on its promise. Cuala found themselves a point behind in the 59th minute, but four late scores were enough to seal the victory.
Two goals in the space of two minutes from Nick Kenny and Mark Schutte sent the Dublin kingpins into 2-11 to 0-11 lead in the 39th minute, but Na Piarsaigh battled back in courageous fashion.
The Limerick city outfit dispatched 1-4 in the next 15 minutes to get back on level terms, before a Shane Dowling free left them a point in front with a minute of normal time remaining.
Con O’Callaghan equalised for Cuala, David Treacy lofted over a pair of frees and then Schutte hit the insurance score in the third minute of stoppage-time.
Treacy, who converted 12 from 12 efforts in the drawn final, had a mixed afternoon on placed balls and shot four wides, but he nailed his frees when it counted most down the stretch.
It was a heart-breaking loss for Na Piarsaigh, who were winners of this competition in 2016. They paid the price for conceding sloppy goals in the 38th and 39th minute but their second-half fightback highlighted the mental strength of this group.
Despite pre-match rumours they might start, Tommy Grimes and Conor Boylan returned from suspension but both began the contest on the bench for Na Piarsaigh.
Jerome Boylan lined out at wing-back for the Limerick champions just three days after he played a full 60 minutes for Ard Scoil Ris in their Croke Cup semi-final defeat to St Kieran’s College.
They played with Alan Dempsey as a spare defender covering the space in front of O’Callaghan, which gave Cuala Sean Moran as a free man at the far end.
Both sides had early spells of dominance, with Na Piarsaigh racing into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead before Cuala reeled off the next four scores to move two points in front.
They went tit for tat for the remainder of the half with Treacy slotting over five placed balls, but it was Breen’s 0-4 from play that caught the eye as Na Piarsaigh went in 0-10 to 0-9 behind.
Both teams lost key defenders around half-time, as Cuala’s Paul Schutte was substituted with a hamstring injury shortly before the interval while Na Piarsaigh full-back Mike Casey went off with after taking a heavy hit within a minute of the restart.
Then arrived Cuala’s quickfire brace of goals through Kenny and Schutte. Kenny’s three-pointer arrived after a stray pass across the area by Grimes, and in the next play Schutte drove in from the flank and rifled an effort into the roof of Podge Kennedy’s net.
Then David Breen rattled the Cuala net after a marvellous fetch and burst forward by Dowling, with Adrian Breen, Gordon Brown and Peter Casey tagging on points to level the game up on 55 minutes.
Treacy (free) and David Dempsey swapped scores before Dowling edged Na Piarsaigh in front, but Cuala finished stronger with four unanswered scores seeing them over the line.
Scorers for Cuala: David Treacy 0-9 (0-7f, 0-1 65), Mark Schutte 1-3, Nicky Kenny 1-0 Con O’Callaghan 0-2, Jake Malone 0-1, John Sheanon 0-1, Sean Moran 0-1 (0-1f), Darragh O’Connell 0-1.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: Shane Dowling 0-5 (0-4f), Adrian Breen 0-5, Kevin Downes 0-2, Peter Casey 0-2, Jerome Boylan 0-1, Gordon Brown 0-1, David Dempsey 0-1.
1. Sean Brennan
3. Cian O’Callaghan
2. Oisin Gough
4. Simon Timlin
19. Paul Schutte (captain)
6. Sean Moran
7. John Sheanon
5. Darragh O’Connell
9. Sean Treacy
10. David Treacy
11. Colm Cronin
8. Jake Malone
12. Colum Sheanon
13. Mark Schutte
14. Con O’Callaghan
15. Nicky Kenny for Sheanon (25)
18. Shane Stapleton for Paul Schutte (28)
1. Podge Kennedy
3. Mike Casey
4. Niall Buckley
5. Alan Dempsey
2. Jerome Boylan
6. Cathal King (captain)
7. Kieran Kennedy
12. David Dempsey
9. William O’Donoghue
8. Shane Dowling
10. Ronan Lynch
11. David Breen
15. Peter Casey
13. Adrian Breen
14. Kevin Downes
22. Tommy Grimes for Mike Casey (32)
23. Conor Boylan for Lynch (40)
19. Gordon Brown for Buckley (41)
17. Mike Foley
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)
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