long grass

Carlow champions ready for another ambush on Dublin hurling as Cuala make the trip south

St Mullins stunned O’Tooles in the 2002 Leinster championship, and now they’re waiting in the long grass for Cuala.

“WE MAKE THEM sacrifices, the exact same as Kilkenny, anyone, Wexford, Cork, the exact same sacrifices. But we don’t get the respect we deserve.”
Frank Foley, Mount Leinster Rangers goalkeeper, 2013


On a cold Sunday afternoon almost three years ago to the day, Dublin hurling champions Ballyboden St Enda’s made the hour-long trip down the country to Dr Cullen Park in Carlow.

Shane Durkin dejected at the final whistle Ballyboden's Shane Durkin is dejected at the final whistle in 2013. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The Leinster semi-final was expected to be a straightforward affair, with Ballyboden the heavy favourites to dispose of Mount Leinster Rangers.

They boasted six members from the Dublin hurling squad, including Gary Maguire, Conal Keaney, Niall McMorrow and Paul Ryan, the same side who beat Galway in the Leinster final four months earlier.

It was Dublin’s first provincial hurling title since 1961 and the small ball code in the capital was riding the rest of a wave.

It was only the third time a Carlow club had made it to a semi-final, but MLR took a step further, stunning Ballyboden on a scoreline of 1-17 to 3-9. They made it all the way to the All-Ireland final, before succumbing to Joe Canning and his Portumna aristocrats.

That was the second big hurling win for Carlow over Dublin in 2013. In June, a power-packed side  from the capital, featuring Cormac Costello, Ciaran Kilkenny, Danny Sutcliffe, Conor McHugh and Eamonn Dillon, was gunned down by Carlow in the Leinster U21 championship.

Ciaran Kilkenny tackles Dion Wall Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny tackles Dion Wall of Carlow in 2013. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Cuala, who lost last year’s Leinster final to Oulart Na Ballagh, will have to be on their guard to avoid a similar fate to Ballyboden’s in 2013.

There are a few striking similarities between MLR then, and St Mullins now.

Three years ago, MLR had just won their third straight championship in Carlow. Their first win in Leinster didn’t come until after that third title, when they beat Westmeath champions Castletown Geoghegan in the quarter-final.

Recently crowned three-in-a-row St Mullins fell at the Leinster quarter-final stage in 2014 and 2015, before their first win arrived over Westmeath’s Raharney in the last eight two weeks ago.

In 1932, St Mullins defeated Carlow Town by 3-3 to no score to pick up their first Carlow SHC title. Since then they’ve been the standard bearers in the county, winning their 26th title after a nine-point win over MLR in this year’s county final.

The small village of St Mullins sits on the eastern bank of the River Barrow in the southern tip of Carlow. County Kilkenny lies across the river, which might explain the hurling obsession in the locality. Despite a small population, the hurling fraternity in the village continues to produce classy hurlers.

The presence of Marty Kavanagh, James Doyle, Paudie Kehoe, Seamus Murphy, Ger Coady and Jack Kavanagh make this team a dangerous proposition for the two-in-a-row Dublin champions.

Con O'Callaghan scores a goal despite the tackle of Jim Fitzpatrick Con O'Callaghan fires in a goal against Laois's Borris-Kilcotton. Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

But PJ Delaney’s side are facing a formidable task, with Cuala’s forward unit containing David and Sean Treacy, Colm Cronin and Mark Schutte, each of whom have represented Dublin’s senior hurlers in the past. Then you factor in Dublin football panelist Con O’Callaghan, who bagged 4-3 in the previous round.

Still, St Mullins have a bit of history on their side. Dr Cullen Park was the venue in 2002, when St Mullins clipped the wings of Dublin champions and heavy favourites O’Toole’s.

The Barrowside champions trailed by five at one stage but a seven point haul from Pat Coady sent the Carlow men into the last four.

Now retired, former Carlow free-taker Coady believes St Mullins are waiting in the long grass to take down the Dublin champions, 14 years on from that famous victory.

“I suppose it’s a long time ago now but in 2002 we played O’Tooles in Dr Cullen Park in a Leinster quarter-final,” Coady told KCLR last week. “No one gave us a hope and I suppose if your to check Paddy Power there, I’d say it will be the same sort of stuff.

“No one will give us a hope there. I have a feeling these lads will give it a good rattle and hopefully when you see people from Mount Leinster Rangers and Myshall and other hurling clubs in Ballinkillen here supporting us.

“Hopefully they will come out and support us again because we are flying the Carlow flag now and proud St. Mullins men to do so.”

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