Stunned Slaughtneil let go of dream with no excuses
Slaughtneil 2-11 Cuala 3-21
Turns out the men from the foot of Carn Togher are not Supermen after all.
Reaching All-Ireland finals in two codes in the one year proved to be just out of Slaughtneil's reach as they fell to a Cuala side that had just too much manic intensity and finished 13 points to the good.
A first-half goal stitched to the top corner by Con O'Callaghan set a tone that Slaughtneil never could reach. A query to the Derry club's manager Michael McShane if tiredness may have finally caught up on the eight dual players was a handy out that he refused to accept.
"I understand why you are asking but if I say it's because of this, or because of that, it sounds like we have excuses. We have no excuses. We were beaten fair and square today," he answered.
"But probably the fact that we did not get enough hurling as we needed to was against us today.
"Our touch wasn't as sharp as theirs, our striking wasn't as sharp and we didn't get enough challenge games to get us to the level we needed to be."
The last challenge match Slaughtneil played was five weeks ago and it showed as they were second-best to the ball in the air and on the ground all day long. But this Cuala side is packed with class acts.
Looking down through their team, they have Oisín Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, Sean Moran, Paul Schutte, Jake Malone, Darragh O'Connell, Mark Schutte and David Treacy as Dublin county regulars.
Seán Treacy and Colm Cronin would be also only for their reservations on the current management, while Con O'Callaghan is with Jim Gavin's footballers. By the end of the first quarter, they were eight points up.
Cuala isolated Con O'Callaghan on Karl McKaigue and it worked. Cian Waldron sent a low delivery in and O'Callaghan rounded McKaigue while turning onto his left side, striking the ball to the top corner of the net in the eleventh minute.
They began the second half full of purpose. A Cian Waldron handpass put Sean Treacy through on goal and he flashed a shot across the body of Oisín O'Doherty for their second goal. The third came at the death with more unselfish play from Mark Schutte allowing substitute Niall Carty to bat a close-in chance home.
Slaughtneil have been working miracles all year, coming out the right side of tight encounters in both football and hurling. But this time there was no room for drama as Cuala swept them aside with a brilliant display of forceful hurling to become the first Dublin club to make an All-Ireland club final.
And how they enjoyed it as their fans flocked onto the pitch to celebrate. An exasperated stadium announcer pleaded with Cuala fans a full hour after the final whistle to please leave the pitch.
"I suppose we were turning up fresh and sharp and we got a good start. The early scores gave us the momentum and we got our noses in front," said Cuala's manager, the former Galway coach Mattie Kenny.
"You can judge a lot by training. Our training sessions are very competitive. We push hard in training. You can get a good idea about how the guys are going. Hurling is a very skilful, touch game. You know by the body language, you know by the touch, by their striking whether they're close to where they need to be or not."
It wasn't lost on McShane.
"They have had four months to prepare solely for this game, and you could see that in them. As a club team they are a very, very good club team. Good luck to them in the final," he wished.
The 17th of March will mean quite something to the hurling people of south Dublin.
"We're delighted to qualify for the final. We're delighted to get the opportunity to go to Croke Park," added Kenny.
Asked what it will mean to his players, Kenny smiled, "I'm not sure what it means. This is where they want to be but you've got to play the game and not the occasion and not get too caught up in the fanfare and the excitement.
"That's nearly for the supporters and the general public. Our lads have just got to get their heads down and just get back to the training ground and stay working.
Slaughtneil, including Conor McAllister now go into football mode ahead of their final against Dr Crokes on St Patrick's Day. And they will not be finished in this game, according to McShane.
"I am telling you now, that Slaughtneil team will be back. We will be back to this level again and we will make amends for that. The average age is 22 and we will be back more determined than ever to make amends for our poor showing today."
SLAUGHTNEIL: O O'Doherty; C McAllister, K McKaigue, P McNeill; S Cassidy, Shane McGuigan, M McGrath; E Cassidy, G Bradley 1-2; B Rodgers 0-2, M McGuigan, C McKenna; Sé McGuigan 1-0, C McKaigue 0-2, C Doherty 0-5, 2f, 1x'65'
Subs: B Cassidy for M McGuigan (half-time), R McCartney for E Cassidy (43)
Yellow cards: McGrath (17), S Cassidy (39), McKenna (40, 51)
Red cards: McKenna (51)
CUALA: S Brennan; O Gough, Cian O'Callaghan, S Timlin; J Malone 0-1, S Moran 0-1, J Sheanon; D O'Connell, C Cronin 0-3; S Treacy 1-1, C Sheanon 0-1, D Treacy 0-8, 7f; C Waldron, Con O'Callaghan 1-3, M Schutte 0-1
Subs: N Kenny 0-1, for Waldron (44), N Waldron 0-1f, for Treacy (58), R Tierney for J Sheanon, S Stapleton for S Treacy (60), N Carty 1-0, for C Sheanon (53)
Yellow cards: M Schutte (50)
Red cards: 0
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).