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'Once somebody threw me the ball and said "take it", you don’t think twice in those situations'

AIB GAA Club Hurler of the Year Seán Moran played a key role in Cuala’s back-to-back All-Ireland success.

CUALA WERE ON the cusp of losing their All-Ireland club hurling crown on St Patrick’s Day when they were awarded a close-range free at the death.

AIB GAA Club Player Awards Seán Moran holding his AIB GAA Club Hurler of the Year award. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

Three points adrift of Na Piarsaigh with the clock deep into injury time, they needed a goal to rescue the situation and keep their title defence alive.

Players were clambering for possession close to the Na Piarsaigh goal when Colm Cronin was adjudged to have been fouled in a dangerous position.

The Limerick side flooded their goalmouth as expected while Cuala plotted their attack, and an unlikely volunteer emerged to take the free.

Centre-back Seán Moran had practiced penalties in the past and often stood over long-range frees. He would later go on to land a monstrous effort  from a free in the eventual replay as part of a man-of-the-match performance.

This scenario however, was something he was not prepared for.

“In training, you don’t ask five or six lads to stand on the goal-line, I don’t think there’s a single hurler in Ireland who would be up for that,” Moran said after recently being presented with the AIB GAA Club Hurler of the Year award.

“We just had an opportunity. Just leading up to that we had a free on the 65, which Mattie [Kenny] told me to drop in. I mis-hit it. It landed on the 21, and they cleared it. I think Colum Sheanon got a hook, and the ball went out for a sideline.

It came back in, and it was a bit mad for a minute or so. We eventually won a free, Colm Cronin won a free, and I got the ball and said “I’m going to hit this as hard as I can and hope for the best”. You just need a bit of luck in those situations.

“Another day, that could have easily been saved. You probably score that one in every four or five times. So thankfully we got that bit of luck. I think it clipped off someone’s hurl and it popped over the line.

“I don’t know,” he continues, “I was given a chance and it didn’t go through my mind at the time. Once somebody threw me the ball, and said “take it,” you don’t think twice in those situations.”

Source: Tallowman GAA/YouTube

(Skip to 21:22 for Moran’s free)

The goal ensured the game would go to extra-time, where the sides could not be separated once again as Cuala’s David Treacy scored his 12th point of the day in the 80th minute to force a replay.

Their second meeting was an equally tight and thrilling affair, with the Dublin champions prevailing with just three points to spare after coughing up a six-point lead.

They became the first hurling side to retain their All-Ireland title since Portumna in 2009 and just the eighth club in GAA history to achieve that feat.

“I think just the culture we have within our group” says Moran while explaining what makes this Cuala team such a special group of players.

Five years ago we were Division 2, League, in Cuala. We hadn’t won a championship match, let alone a Dublin Championship in a few years.

“It was in 2012 when we beat Lucan and got on a run there. We lost a county final that year. I think what we have is a group of players, it’s just such a good friendship between players. When we’ve training on a Sunday morning, we’d go to the [Oisín] Gough’s house for breakfast after training.

“You kind of build that bond between players off the pitch. It really strengthens you as a group and really develops the culture. We kind of just grew so close together, and that really does play a part when you’re on the field, you’re with some of your best friends, having grown up with people.

Cuala celebrate after the game Cuala players celebrating their All-Ireland victory. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You’re spending three or four nights a week with them, so you really get to know them very well, and you’re willing to just do anything for any one of those guys. The culture we’ve developed within our setup has been a huge factor in our success.”

Dual star Con O’Callaghan is regularly credited as being at the bedrock of Cuala’s continued success and his importance to the team materialised once again in that victory over Na Piarsaigh.

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He scored 0-2 overall, including an equalising point in the closing moments of normal time.

Moran has the good fortune of avoiding marking the elusive full-forward at training most of the time, and while he would love to see the young talent line out for the Dublin hurlers, he’s just satisfied to be his clubmate.

“Con’s a great player. He’s great to play alongside. I enjoy playing with him at Cuala but, again, like I said, people can speculate all day but at the end of the day it’s up to Con where he sees himself.

“It’s not something that I would talk to Con about. He’s had huge success in hurling and football. Con is more than capable of choosing where he wants his career to go. I’m sure he’d be hugely successful at hurling or football.

“He’s an absolute credit to the club, the GAA as well with the year he’s had, it’s absolutely phenomenal. He was again a huge asset to our team again this year.

Con O’Callaghan with William O’Donoghue and Jerome Boylan Con O'Callaghan. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Thankfully, I don’t have to mark Con too often. It’s not a nice task. He’s an incredible athlete. He’s incredibly gifted. It’s great, he’s very athletic, very explosive.”

Along with O’Callaghan and the significant guidance of manager Mattie Kenny, Cuala also have 2010 All-Ireland winning Dublin goalkeeper Cliodhna O’Connor working with them as a strength and conditioning coach.

Moran is grateful of the knowledge and experience she imparts to the squad.

“She’s been a huge benefit to the team. She was slightly involved three years ago – Willy Heffernan was our main strength and conditioning coach, from Kildare. He stepped away and Cliodhna came in. She added a huge amount, she was brilliant. She seamlessly fitted into our set-up. She fitted perfectly in, she’s brilliant.

“When you have people involved, even at various different levels who’ve had success with their counties in the past, it adds a huge amount. She knows what it’s like to play in big games.”

Moran has recently linked up with the Dublin hurlers following the club’s All-Ireland success, along with Treacy, Cian O’Callaghan and Jake Malone, as they gear up for a Leinster championship meeting with Kilkenny coming up on 13 May.

Pat Gilroy’s charges bowed out of the National League at the hands of Tipperary in the quarter-finals following a mixed campaign which featured two wins and three defeats, which left them in fourth place on the Division 1B table.

Cuala’s back-to-back All-Ireland success can bolster Dublin’s preparations in this championship and Moran is determined to give what he can to the cause.

Sean Moran under pressure Sean Moran in possession for Cuala. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“We’re going to offer as much as we can coming back in. We have, obviously, a bit of experience in the two years we’ve had. Our main focus is going to be to bring things up a gear. Gearing up for championship, training gets that bit more intense.

“We’re looking to just come back into the set-up. We want to be a benefit to Dublin, going forward. We want to come in and add as much as we can to the season we’ve had. Whatever that may be, whatever is asked of us, we’ll do it to the best of our ability.

“We’re hoping to kick things on from here as we prepare for the championship.”

AIB present Cuala’s Seán Moran with the 2017/2018 AIB GAA Club Hurler of the Year award. AIB and The GAA honoured 30 players on Saturday evening 22 April at the inaugural AIB GAA Club Player Football and Hurling Teams of the Year.

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