After a first Galway SHC title in 47 years, facing the All-Ireland champions was always going to be a tough ask for Liam Mellows.
And, in the end, the task was too great as a third-quarter flourish helped Cuala to a 1-17 to 0-11 win in Semple Stadium.
While the country will now look ahead to the clash between the Dalkey outfit and Na Piarsaigh on St Patrick’s Day, for Liam Mellows, it is time to reflect.
Manager Louis Mulqueen was a proud man, speaking to Pundit Arena outside the losing dressing room:
“Looking at it, we came up to do our best, we came up to perform as good as humanly possible, I think it is a learning curve.
“We came out of Galway but today, we came up against, probably, the best team in Ireland.”
With star names such as Con O’Callaghan and Colm Cronin in the Dublin and Leinster champions’ forward line, Liam Mellows approached the game defensively with David Collins playing a sweeper role.
However, there was too much class in the Cuala side, who ran out nine-point winners after a second half where they were always in control:
“(They had) slicker movement, their touch was there or thereabouts (every time). We went with the sweeper system, (there was) two points in it at half time.
“(The game) was in contention but ten minutes into the second half, they got four of five points in a row and that gave them the springboard that put us under pressure.”
Describing the hour, played in front of 2,426 as a “learning curve”, Mulqueen outlined another key difference between the Dalkey side and others who they have faced in their championship run:
“The big thing was when we went into the tackle today, when they hit us in the tackle we lost possession of the ball and when it broke, they got it and they set up and punished us.
“When they took the ball into the tackle and we hit them, they didn’t lose it.
“That’s a thing I was trying to say to our players inside. That’s from conditioning over two or three years, that’s gym work that’s experience.”
This physicality is sure to be a feature for the men from the capital as they look to retain their national crown.
However, with Na Piarsaigh looking to win the Tommy Moore cup for the second time in three years, it is sure to be a final for the ages when the pair meet on March 17.