AHL 1 MATCH REPORT: CRAOBH PIP CUALA BY A POINT
ADULT HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
CRAOBH CHIARAIN 1-20
By Daire Walsh
Alan McCrabbe’s coolly-converted ’65’ deep into second-half stoppage-time was the difference between the teams in a tense Adult Hurling League Division One clash at Clonshaugh on Monday night.
With McCrabbe, Cian Derwin and Billy Ryan all leading the way, Craobh Chiarain looked set to secure a commanding victory at the expense reigning All-Ireland champions Cuala. The door was left ajar for the Dalkey men in the closing-quarter, though, when a Sean Treacy goal helped to re-ignite their challenge.
They looked set for a share of the spoils when Nicky Kenny fired over his 11th point of the contest, only for McCrabbe to determine the final outcome at the opposite end.
Owing to their extended odyssey at national level, Cuala didn’t begin their league campaign under May 5 – when they were defeated by Na Fianna at Shanganagh Park. Following another reversal to current pace-setters Ballyboden St Enda’s, they finally got their account up and running at home to Crumlin.
While they lined up without Dublin footballers Con O’Callaghan and Mark Schutte – in addition to their county hurling representatives – Cuala were able to call on nine of the squad that featured in the All-Ireland club replay success over Na Piarsaigh back in March.
They faced a Craobh outfit that were seeking a third consecutive top-flight win, but with a strong breeze blowing in their favour, it was Cuala who opened the scoring through the lively Kenny.
Gary Kelly spent much of the evening in a sweeper role at the heart of the Craobh defence, which consequently left Sean Treacy free at the far end. The versatile Cuala man proceeded to cancel out McCrabbe’s opening free of the tie, before back-to-back efforts from Stephen Kelly and Ryan edged the hosts in front for the first time.
Though Cuala were not having it all their own way, they picked off some nice scores as the half developed. Either side of a Colum Sheanon effort, Colm Cronin added a magnificent 0-2 salvo for Mattie Kenny’s men.
Craobh recently suffered a narrow reversal (0-14 to 1-15) to the southsiders in Group ‘A’ of this year’s Dublin SHC and were eager to avoid a repeat performance in their latest meeting.
Thanks to fine contributions from Paul Kelly and Derwin, they kept themselves in the hunt during a fast-paced opening period. Indeed, courtesy of unanswered points by McCrabbe (two) and wing-back Darren Kelly, they appeared to be building momentum at just the right time.
While Cuala full-forward Brian Fitzgerald split the posts with a long-distance strike on 17 minutes, his subsequent withdrawal ensured that Kenny was entrusted with place-ball duties for the remainder of the action.
With the interval approaching, he slotted over a brace of frees to give Cuala a slender advantage. There was a final opportunity in front of the posts for Derwin, however, and the Craobh centre-forward added his second point to leave the sides tied at 0-10 apiece.
Another Cronin special on the left-wing made it an ideal start to the second half for Cuala, but they were quickly placed under intense pressure by a confident Craobh attack.
Four points in as many minutes arrived through McCrabbe (two), Ryan and Derwin, creating fresh daylight between the teams. After Cuala eventually responded with another Cronin score, their northside rivals bagged the opening goal on the stroke of 40 minutes.
When Ryan’s path to the target was halted, referee Sean Stack awarded a penalty to Craobh. This presented McCrabbe with a chance to stretch his side’s lead to five points and the 2009 All-Star dispatched his 20-metre shot to the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
They were now odds-on to continue their winning league run, with another batch of points from Robbie Mahon, McCrabbe, Paul Kelly and Ryan helping them to create a 1-18 to 0-14 cushion in the closing moments.
Yet, just when a resounding loss appeared to be on the cards for Cuala, they produced a storming rally that epitomised the never-say-die attitude of this group. Kenny’s three-point scoring blitz arrived at the perfect juncture for the visiting team, as it was followed by a much-needed Treacy major.
With three minutes of injury-time announced, Mahon settled Craobh with a monstrous effort. Kenny levelled matters for the second time in the half with two more clinically-struck scores, but Craobh substitute James Finn was immediately denied by a wonderful Sean Brennan save.
The Cuala goalkeeper superbly turned the ball behind, though this allowed McCrabbe to ultimately claim a match-winning point at the death. Craobh now move up to sixth as a result of this victory, while their opponents stay in 11th ahead of a re-scheduled away trip to Lucan Sarsfields on Saturday week (May 30).
Scorers – Craobh Chiarain: Alan McCrabbe 1-8 (1-0 pen, 0-5f, 0-2 ’65’), Cian Derwin, Billy Ryan 0-3 each, Robbie Mahon, Paul Kelly 0-2 each, Darren Kelly, Stephen Kelly 0-1 each. Cuala: Nicky Kenny 0-11 (7f), Colm Cronin 0-5, Sean Treacy 1-1, Brian Fitzgerald (f), Colum Sheanon 0-1 each.
CRAOBH CHIARAIN: Stephen Chester; Sean Finnegan, Eugene Farrell, Mark Hayes; Darren Kelly, Kevin Hetherton, Keith Elliott; Stephen Kelly, Robbie Mahon; Alan McCrabbe, Cian Derwin, Francis Usanga; Billy Ryan, Paul Kelly, Gary Kelly. Subs: Damien O’Reilly for Elliott (43), Daniel Cullen for Derwin, James Finn for S Kelly (both 55).
CUALA: Sean Brennan; Sean Treacy, Oisin Gough, Simon Timlin; Evan Hanley, Shane Stapleton, John Sheanon; Shane Murphy, Cian Waldron; Colum Sheanon, Colm Cronin, Andrew Power; Niall Carty, Brian Fitzgerald, Nick Kenny. Subs: Cillian Sheanon for Fitzgerald (20), Tom Ryan for Carty (42), Liam Murphy for Waldron (54).
Referee: Sean Stack (Parnell’s).