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Cuala join an elite band of clubs, Na Piarsaigh's character and refereeing decisions

5 talking points after Cuala’s three-point win over Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland club hurling final replay.

Paul Schutte lifts the trophy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Kevin O’Brien reports from O’Moore Park, Portlaoise

1. Cuala’s remarkable achievement

CUALA NEEDED TO summon all their courage when they pulled the game of the fire in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, and when Mattie Kenny’s men watched a six-point lead evaporate in today’s replay they clinically closed out the game.

Trailing by a point in the 60th minute, Cuala’s heavy hitters stood up. Con O’Callaghan won the break from a puck-out and slotted over, while David Treacy converted two pressure frees and Mark Schutte popped over the insurance point to seal the victory.

Cuala have become just the fifth hurling side to do back-to-back All-Irelands, joining an illustrious group of Portumna (2008-09), Birr (2001-02), Athenry (1999-2000) and Sarsfields (1993-94) in doing so.

A year ago, Cuala became the first Dublin club to win the All-Ireland shortly after winning their first provincial title. Now they’ve put together back-to-back Leinster and All-Ireland crowns, heralding a new era of dominance in the club game.

2. Tough loss Na Piarsaigh

This will be an extremely difficult defeat for the Limerick city team to take, but their character cannot be questioned.

In 40 seconds of madness early in the second-half, they conceded two goals that would have buried most teams.

But Shane O’Neill’s side refused to give up and dominated the next 15 minutes, mining a goal through David Breen and scores from Kevin Downes, the excellent Adrian Breen, substitute Gordon Brown, David Dempsey and Shane Dowling to take the lead with time almost up.

But this thrilling contest swung back in Cuala’s favour at the death as the 2016 champions fell agonisingly close.

Adrian Breen dejected at the final whistle Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Questionable refereeing decisions

Na Piarsaigh boss O’Neill indicated his disappointment at the referee’s performance in the wake of the drawn game and he would have had a good reason to be critical of Paud O’Dwyer after the replay at O’Moore Park.

Cuala won 17 frees compared to Na Piarsaigh’s eight, which didn’t reflect the balance of play. One decision, in particular, stood out as an unfair call when Con O’Callaghan was adjudged to have been fouled in the 63rd minute when Cuala were just a point in front.

O’Callaghan looked to have been crowded out by the Na Piarsaigh rearguard, but referee Paud O’Dwyer awarded a tap-over free for Treacy. Instead of chasing an equaliser, Na Piarsaigh were now two behind with little over 60 seconds of stoppage-time left on the clock.

The Limerick side had to chase a goal and ultimately Mark Schutte extend Cuala’s lead to three before time ran out.

4. Two games of the highest quality

There was little to separate these two sides after over 160 minutes of hurling over the last week. Cuala and Na Piarsaigh have shared the Tommy Moore Cup between them since 2016 and are undoubtedly the two finest club teams in the country at the minute.

They played out a pair of spectacular contests between Croke Park and O’Moore Park, displaying the sort of quality that wouldn’t look amiss on the inter-county stage.

Both squads are littered with inter-county talent, with 10 Na Piarsaigh players expected to join John Kiely’s squad and at least the same number capable of challenging for places in Pat Gilroy’s Dublin panel.

5. New season is only around the corner

Without getting into another discussion on championship structures, the unfortunate thing for both squads is they’ll be quickly back into action as the new season commences in the ‘club-only’ month of April.

After a lengthy club campaign, Cuala and Na Piarsaigh will be expected to begin the defence of their county titles in a few short weeks.

In addition, a good number of players from both squads will then turn their attention to county duty and into Leinster and Munster SHC round robins in May with four inter-county games to play in five weeks.

It’s a daunting schedule to be facing into. Ideally, both sets of players should be heading for period of well-deserved downtime after an emotionally and physically draining club campaign. But that’s an argument for another day.

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Kevin O'Brien

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