Sunday, December 4th 2016: AIB Leinster Club Senior Hurling Championship Final; Cuala (Dublin) v O’Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny), O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, 2.00pm.
The champions of Dublin and Kilkenny will clash in the AIB Leinster GAA Club Senior Hurling final for the first time since 2005 next Sunday.
Anticipation of an enthralling game is growing as both clubs have displayed tremendous form this season.
Cuala are not only attempting to win the title for the first time in their history, but there is the added motivation to make amends for last year’s final defeat and also become the first Dublin club to become provincial champions since Crumlin in 1979.
But O’Loughlin Gaels have an enviable record in the Leinster Club SHC, with their name inscribed on the cup in two of the three years they have qualified from Kilkenny. Most recently, they beat Oulart-The Ballagh in the 2010 final and previously they defeated Birr in the 2003 decider.
Those two games were won by O’Loughlin Gaels without scoring a goal and so too was this year’s county final. On the last Sunday in October, they beat Ballyhale Shamrocks 0-19 to 1-12, with Mark Bergin hitting 11 points of their tally.
Managed by former Offaly great Aidan Fogarty, O’Loughlin Gaels progressed directly to a Leinster semi-final and it wasn’t long before the green flags were raised against reigning champions Oulart-The Ballagh.
Despite a sluggish start which saw them fall five points behind, goals from Mark Kelly and Mark Bergin gave O’Loughlin Gaels a 2-6 to 0-10 interval lead. A dominant second half display featured another goal by Sammy Johnston and they ran out easy winners by 3-17 to 0-17.
Similarly, Cuala’s progress to the final was never threatened in their two outings to date. Con O’Callaghan stole the show with 4-3 in a first round victory over Borris-in-Ossory Kilcotton of Laois (4-16 to 1-14) and he finished with 1-3 as they beat St Mullins of Carlow in the semi-final by 1-19 to 1-7.
But they are capable of coming through tough battles when required also. In the Dublin final, for example, Kilmacud Crokes held the upper hand until Cuala outscored them by six points to one in the closing stages to win by 1-15 to 0-15.
Mattie Kenny’s side beat Coolderry (Offaly) and Clara (Kilkenny) in the 2015 Leinster Club Championship, but had to settle for a six point defeat at the hands of Oulart-The Ballagh in the final.
For the neutral observer, there is always the added interest in seeing how county stars fare in their club colours and there will be no shortage of household names togging out at O’Moore Park.
From O’Loughlin Gaels, Mark Bergin and Mark Kelly have recent experience in attack for ‘The Cats’ and former All-Ireland heroes and All-Stars Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford are still providing inspiration.
Cuala players have of late comprised more than one-third of the starting 15 for Dublin, with Cian O’Callaghan, Oisin Gough, Darragh O’Connell, David Treacy, Mark and Paul Shutte and Sean Moran all on this season’s panel. In addition, Sean Treacy was man-of-the-match in the Leinster U-21 HC final earlier this year.
And so there is plenty of incentive for hurling supporters – and not just those from Cuala and O’Loughlin Gaels – to make the trip to Portlaoise this Sunday.