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02nd Dec 2017

How the cocky youngsters of yesterday became the champions of today – the Cuala story

Niall McIntyre

Cuala are making it count.

When Cuala won the All-Ireland club hurling final in March, they became the first ever Dublin club team to lift the Tommy Moore Cup.

It is a golden generation. But not all golden generations win what they should. There have been other golden generation clubs in Dublin’s hurling history – yet only one of them, other than Cuala, has won the Leinster club (Crumlin in 1979)

What sets Cuala apart? What do they do differently?

It’s rare to see a Cuala hurler making a selfish decision. There’s no ‘Hail Mary’ efforts at goal. There’s no belting the sliotar as far as you can up the field just so you can get it out of your area.

Everything is done for the benefit of the team. Willing runs are made, tackles and blocks are put in, the simple option is always taken.

Cuala have no real star player. They’ve a host of class players, but each member delivers the same work-rate as the next.

The Dalkey side are preparing for their third Leinster club hurling final in a row on Sunday. Their team ethic has been key to this rise, because it hasn’t always been this way in Cuala.

Paul Schutte has been through it all with his club. From a rampant underage career with that golden generation, to a baptism of fire in their first senior hurling final in 2012

They were a young side, then, but they took that defeat to Kilmacud Crokes with exceptional maturity. You win or you learn – they learned.

Schutte takes us back. Back to a time when an excusably cocky young side reacted well to failure. That was the difference.

“The group of players I grew up with, we won underage and had a good team, so we kind of expected that to follow us up to senior which was probably a bit naive at the time,” he began.

“I remember after we lost the County Final to Crokes in 2012 in the changing room afterwards we were very upset. We all would have been very young, the average age was maybe 19 or 20. Colm Cronin and Cian O’Connell played their first games having not trained with us all year, they were still minors.”

Now they’ve won three county titles in a row.

“We lost that game, but I remember in the dressing-room afterwards saying, ‘There’s a Leinster Championship in this team in the next three years’,” he recalls at the AIB Leinster club final launch.

“Now, it didn’t quite work out as three years. We got to a Leinster Final but lost it. I just felt if we stuck at it then the sky would be the limit for the group and that’s how its happened.”

After that county final loss – some of the side’s bigger characters stood up. The others followed their lead.

Oisín Gough wasn’t the captain in 2012. It was Bobby Browne, but it was no surprise that Gough was the next man to captain the side. He was their captain in 2015 when they won their first county title in 21 years. He was their captain in March leading them up the steps of Croke Park as All-Ireland champions. He was the man.

“Oisín Gough, in fairness to him, was very visionary. He was like, ‘No, we need to go for an All-Ireland’. And the rest of us just followed him along,” said Schutte.

That 2015 win was a landmark one for Cuala. It saw Cian O’Callaghan follow in the footsteps of his and Con’s father, Maurice, who was on the team that won in 1994. Schutte’s uncles were also involved in that golden generation of the 90s. He was mad to match them; to out-do them.

“Yeah, that’s it. When we finally won our first championship my uncles were very quick to say, ‘Well, we’ve three’. Thanks for letting me have my one moment’.” 

“Then when we won the second we were able to say to them, ‘We did the back to back and you never did’. And they were, like, ‘Yeah, but we still have three championships’

“So then finally we won the third one and we’re finally starting to get all of our own back with the slagging,” he added.

Nothing comes easy.

On Sunday, they look for they look to make it back-to-back Leinster titles. An experienced Kilcormac-Killoughey side are their opponents.

“There’s huge experience in that team. I was looking at their Leinster campaign for the previous five years they’ve been in it and they beat Ballyhale in their pomp, they beat Thurles Sarsfields. They’ve got a lot of big scalps,” says Schutte.

“Whatever they throw at us we’ll hopefully be ready for it.”

They’re always ready.

This is their opportunity.

“If you get an opportunity you just have to take it. We’ve got a big opporunity on SUnday. I don’t want to start this whole campaign all over again if we lose on Sunday because it’s a long, long road back. 

“We just have to take this chance,” he concluded.

We wouldn’t bet against them.