Sunday March 25th (the morning after the day before), saw Cuala Intermediate footballers get the better of their visitors from Raheny by the narrowest of margins to record their second one-point win of the AFL4 season. The knife-edge nature of the contest was not good for the nerves of those watching. But once again the Cuala lads toughed it out to finish this ‘pre-championship’ phase of the league with maximum points.
In what was a frustrating first half, Cuala found it hard to break down the massed Raheny ranks as they pulled numbers back to deal with our attacking threat. A lot of good build-up play by the likes of Matthew Kiernan, Ryan Scollard and Gavin Hartnett ran aground against a tough-tackling and canny defence. The full forward line of Donal Lehmann, Mark O’Grady and Ronan Sweeney looked dangerous but were being starved of good ball as the screen set up in front of them was proving hard to penetrate. Cuala’s only first half reward were points from Hartnett and Sweeney. In a low scoring half, Raheny’s sporadic breaks were largely well dealt with and the Red’s full back line of Enda Kelly, Neil O’Sullivan and Luke Allen were very effective in closing off the route to goal. However, a couple of Raheny points from play and one free were then added to after a lapse of concentration in the Cuala defence, saw the ball passed directly to an unmarked Raheny forward who finished gratefully to the net. This left the half time score Cuala 0-2, Raheny 1-3.
The half time team discussion focused on staying positive, upping the intensity and playing smarter in attack. Right from the throw-in, Colmán Mac Cionnaith put this into effect as he made a searing run through the heart of the northsider’s defence before being pulled down 20 metres from goal. Tom Magee pointed the resulting free – and the tone was set for how Cuala would approach this second half. Another Magee free was followed by a towering Scollard point to put a minimum between the teams. Raheny continued to probe on the break and Cuala were having to work harder for their scores. But the half back line of Jacob Brennan, Collie Brock and Ciarán McDermott supported their midfield to ensure that the flow of play was largely in the direction of the Raheny goal. Two Magee points from play answered similar scores for the visitors. Then a super point by substitute Paul James was followed by a Hartnett point to put Cuala in front. Again, however, calamity befell the backline. After a great save from Cormac Quinn, an errant backpass led to an open goal opportunity which was exploited to the full to put the maroon and whites back in front with little time left.
By this stage, Tom Magee had left the field with a very nasty looking hand injury. This was a blow given that he was the team’s top scorer and had found his range in the second half. However, his replacement, Dan Keating was to have a very substantial say in the outcome. A Cuala attack looked to have broken down as the opposition full back took possession near the end line. However, Keating targeted the ball in the tackle, dislodged it and from there the ball found its way into the back of the Raheny net. Points by Hartnett and James kept Cuala noses in front as the clock ticked into overtime. Philip O’Donnell had by now entered the fray and was part of a frantic rearguard action which just about held out as the opposition threw players forward in an attempt to salvage a result. As the last Raheny shot dropped wide of the post, the referee blew for fulltime and the result that had been fought so hard for had been secured with the score Cuala 1-10, Raheny 2-6.
A great win after a workman-like performance with much that was admirable and yet there is clearly much work to do. Not a bad place to be as we face into the championship! Taken together with the simultaneous win for our senior footballers on the parallel Shanganagh pitch, this was another welcome Cuala ‘double’. Indeed, with the AFL7 and AFL10 teams also recording wins later in the day, it was a ‘double double’ for our adult football teams – and a great way to complete a truly memorable weekend for Cuala.