A stoppage-time scoring blitz helped Cuala to see off a spirited second-half fightback by Na Fianna in an Adult Football League Division One clash at St Mobhi Road on Wednesday evening.
Despite falling five points behind (0-13 to 0-8) inside the final-quarter, the Michael Deegan-inspired hosts subsequently restored parity with a series of eye-catching scores. Yet, with substitute Darragh Spillane coming into his own, the visitors from Dalkey dug deep to secure their sixth league victory of the season.
Thanks to last Saturday’s away success over St Sylvester’s, Na Fianna held onto their spot in the top-four in advance of this encounter. Cuala placed a dent in Kilmacud’s title challenge by claiming a share of the spoils in their league meeting at Hyde Park on the same day and were just three points adrift of the Glasnevin men at the beginning of the night.
Though Dublin senior star Con O’Callaghan (as well as five-time Celtic Cross winner Michael Fitzsimons) was a notable absentee from the Cuala line-up, his brother Niall broke the deadlock inside the opening minute of the play.
His superb effort off a right-hand angle was quickly cancelled out by opposite number Sean Caffrey, before Luke Keating (excellent throughout) converted a close-range free. Centre-fielder Peadar O Cofaigh Byrne was denied a goal in the build-up to this score, just moments after netminder Luke Kelly had turned away a Killian Deeley effort for Na Fianna.
While both sides created a significant number of chances in the early moments, they often struggled to find the target. With Cuala centre-forward Colum Sheanon playing a roving role, John Kelly often found himself as a spare man inside the Na Fianna defence.
Following traded scores between Na Fianna’s Glenn O’Reilly and Jamie Keenan, Cuala maintained a slender advantage. This lead was doubled on the first-quarter mark, when wing-forward James Power brilliantly split the posts on the right-wing.
Na Fianna responded through lively inside forward T Foran, only to concede three points in the space of two minutes. Either side of O’Callaghan’s second of the half, Keating raised white flags for an increasingly-impressive Cuala.
There was still plenty of time for Na Fianna to recover and a point apiece from the central attacking axis of Deegan and Foran cut the gap down to two. After a cagey opening to the action, the respective forward divisions were now expressing themselves in a more meaningful way.
Keating turned sharply to kicked another point on 25 minutes, but this was matched at the far end by the right boot of former Dublin minor David Lacey. There was enough time for Keating to lash over at a tight-angle, though, giving Cuala a 0-9 to 0-6 interval cushion in the process.
Not content to sit on this buffer, Cuala added to their tally with a routine Keating free on the resumption. The dependable O’Reilly got Na Fianna back on track with a sublime strike off the outside of his right-foot, and this acted as the cue for the southside outfit to introduce the aforementioned Spillane – son of former Kerry great Mick.
Even though his greatest contribution to the Cuala cause would come much later, he nonetheless played his part in extending the gap between the sides. Courtesy of additional points from the dynamic duo of Keating and O’Callaghan, Na Fianna were staring a fifth league reversal of 2018 in the face.
A Deegan free released some of the pressure off their shoulders, but a similar Keating effort (his eighth point of the proceedings) looked set to guide Cuala towards a comprehensive triumph.
However, after Senan Coughlan and substitute Jimmy Higgins found the range in quick succession, Na Fianna were suddenly back in the frame. Deegan kicked an outstanding long-distance point and also made no mistake from a subsequent 40-metre free.
With their deficit now at the bare minimum, the northsiders finally had considerable momentum on their side. In fact, when Deegan registered another single on the hour – at the end of a prolonged move – they were ready to turn the tables on their opponents.
It is to Cuala’s credit that they managed to wrestle back control during an extended spell of injury-time, with a fisted Spillane effort bringing a 10-minute scoring drought to an end. With his first touch of the game, Alan Benson set-up O’Callaghan for another exquisite point.
In spite of the extra leeway provided by these interventions, Spillane had to make certain of Cuala’s success with his second of the tie.
This result pushes them up to seventh in the top-flight table, while Na Fianna drop out of the top-four with just two rounds remaining.
Scorers – Cuala: Luke Keating 0-8 (5f), Niall O’Callaghan 0-4, Darragh Spillane 0-2, James Power, Jamie Keenan 0-1 each. Na Fianna: Michael Deegan 0-5 (2f), Glenn O’Reilly, T Foran 0-2 each, Senan Coughlan, David Lacey, Sean Caffrey, Jimmy Higgins 0-1 each.
CUALA: Luke Kelly; David Sheerin, Kevin Killion, Sean Drummond; Liam McHugh, Luke Treacy, Mark Treacy; Brian Smith, Peadar O Cofaigh Byrne; James Power, Colum Sheanon, David McMahon; Niall O’Callaghan, Jamie Keenan, Luke Keating. Subs: Darragh Spillane for M Treacy (38), Cathal O Giollain for Smith (56), Alan Benson for Keenan (62).
NA FIANNA: Sam Bruton; Eoin Connolly, Paul O’Hanlon, Andrew Baxter; Eoin O’Dea, John Kelly, Peter Feeney; Niall Cooper, Killian Deeley; Senan Coughlan, Michael Deegan, Glenn O’Reilly; Sean Caffrey, T Foran, David Lacey. Subs: Darragh Kennedy for Feeney (40), Thomas Connell for Lacey (45), Jimmy Higgins for Caffrey, Cathal Doran for Baxter (both 50).