It’s fair to say that last weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day billing between Na Piarsaigh and Cuala lived up to expectation.
The last two All-Ireland winners, it was hyped as having the potential to be one of the great club finals and after 60 minutes and another 20 of extra time the game would have a fair claim at that mantle.
As the clock ticked towards full time and Na Piarsaigh reclaiming their crown after a helter skelter affair, Seán Moran lined up a 21-yard free with one thing on his mind: “hit it as hard as I can, and hit the net.”
And, somehow, he did.
Blazing a shot at the throng of Limerick men on the goal-line, the sliotar caught the side of goalkeeper Podge Kenny’s hurley and deflected into the net. A game of inches becoming a game of millimetres.
Victory taken from Na Piarsaigh’s grasp must have felt like Cuala had won the All-Ireland, but extra time quickly reminded them that they had work left to do. David Breen barged in on goal and put the Limerick side straight back into the lead.
But Cuala never accepted defeat, clawing back the deficit to one point to allow David Treacy the opportunity to tie the scores and force a replay. 60 yards out facing into a swirling Croke Park wind, he notched it with ice running through his veins.
On Saturday they go again. This time, the much less glamorous venue of Portlaoise. It may not be Croker but the goal is the same – win the All-Ireland.
It’s likely to be much the same as last week. End-to-end action, an unaccountable amount of determination, fight and perseverance.
You’d say it’s advantage Na Piarsaigh, who welcome back the suspended pair of Thomas Grimes and Conor Boylan to their squad. Last week they only used two substitutes throughout the whole game, the return of these two allows them to freshen legs in the starting fifteen.
On the other hand, Cuala should and will expect more from Con O’Callaghan, who only contributed one point in round one. His marker Michael Casey was fantastic in Croker, a repeat of that would put him in the conversation for the Limerick full back position.
The fight to come back not once but twice will stand to Cuala. They are never beaten, and it will take a monumental performance for Na Piarsaigh to claim the victory.
Equally, Cuala must go above and beyond what they managed last week and try and get the foothold on the scoreboard. If they can stem Na Piarsaigh’s scoring exploits, and get the best out of Con, they will win.
But with Na Piarsaigh’s reinforcements and quality in attack, they should feel no such last second heartbreak in O’Moore Park.
Throw-in: Saturday @ 5.30pm, Portlaoise | Verdict: Na Piarsaigh