The Michael Cusack Hurling Club has won its third national championship. This past Labor Day weekend, the Cusack's battled their way to become the North American Junior B champions.
The 2013 national tournament was held in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cusack's contested the semi-final with the Barley House Wolves club from New Hampshire. The New Englanders were 2012 Boston and National Junior C Champions. This was their first match in the Junior B grade. The club is mainly made up of members of the armed services. The Chicagoans knew the match would be physical and their foes well able to keep up with the Cusack style of play.
From the throw-in, the Midwesterners kept the pressure on New Hampshire. Goal chances presented themselves but were called back by square balls. The Cusack forward were steady in their point taking and knocked the sliotar over the bar at every opportunity. Joe McLoughlin took advantage of every placed ball adding to the Cusack's total. New Hampshire did not back down. Their scores came quickly and lodged a major in the first half, getting the best of net minder John Vizza. At the half, the Chicagoans were only ahead by 2 points.
Back from the break, the Cusack's immediately took their scores. Nearly every ball that came from the New Hampshire back field was returned just as quickly. J. McLoughlin continued with his free taking marksmanship. The Chicagoans showed no signs of slowing down. The New Englanders could only muster a few points in the second half. The Cusack's would eventually run out clear winners, 2-16 (22) to 1-9 (12).
New Hampshire showed real promise through the match and will no doubt be contenders in 2014.
The Chicagoans knew they were in for a rough match.
Before the match, the atmosphere was calm over the Cusack camp. Rumors of mind games the previous day may have been fuel for the fire, but effects were not to be seen on the Chicagoans. From the throw-in, the Cusack's took possession early and logged a few early points. Twin Cities' puck outs and clearances dropped high balls on the Chicago backs. The Cusack's were up to the task. Breaking balls were gathered and returned quickly. Twin Cities would be the first to find the back of the net. Collapses of the Chicago back line were punished with goals. Cusack forwards displayed a composure that allowed them to continue chipping away at the deficit. At the short whistle, the Chicagoans were staring at the wrong side of a 2 point margin.
The first half was a delight to watch. Tough, physical play combined with speed and skill. It was apparent that both clubs were hungery for the cup.
The second half saw much of the same. The Chicagoans knocked over 3 points to make the slimmest of leads. Twin Cities raced ahead and put tremendous pressure on the Cusack full backs and keeper. A Twin Cities forward broke free and was facing only John Vizza between him and the lead in the game. Vizza cut down the shooting angle and sacrificed himself, stopping the shot with his chest, to protect the lead. Cusack's free taking was not as lucky as in the semi-final. But some great scores from corner forward Kieran Ruane inched the Chicago lead to 4. Throughout the game, every single Cusack forward and midfielder made their mark on the score sheet.
With less than a minute left in the match and the Cusack's up for 4, a free was awarded to Twin Cities on Chicago's 21 a yard outside the left goalpost. There were 7 Cusack's on the line. The free was well struck and came in low. The sliotar hit the turf. Wing back Kyle Farmer threw himself in front of the bouncing ball, but the ball was deflected behind him. Matt Schwertfeger, full back, caught the deflection off his facemask then, with a flick of his leg, sent the ball over the end line just inches from the post. As the umpire signaled for a 65, three sharp blasts from the referee's whistle brought about the dramatic finish of the match.
The match was hotly contested and Twin Cities pushed the Cusack's to the end. It was an emotional end to the weekend. The Chicagoans were severely tested and put in 110% effort. Cusack Chairman Matt Schwertfeger after the match said, "The boys did everything that was asked of them by the management. It was a massive effort by all players. They left everything on the field. Of course, we would not have been here without our management team, Tom Dolan Sr. and Paul Reynolds. This is just a huge boost to our players and managmenet, who have worked so hard this year, to our supporters, those here with us in Cleveland and in Chicago, and our club. It's an incredible feeling, words can't do it justice."
BACK ROW: S. Barrett; A. Killarney; T. Dolan Sr (Mgr.); G. Igoe; S. McShane; D. McLoughlin (VC); K. Ruane; K. Farmer; T. Keane; R. O'Boyle; J. McLoughlin; M. Schwertfeger; M. Igoe
FRONT ROW: J. Vizza; K. Pearson; L. Dolan; B. Connolly; M. Killarney; T. Dolan Jr. (C); P. Paison; S. Dolan; P. Reynolds (Sel.)
Photo at top of page: Cusack's after winning with supporters
Second photo down: Matt Schwertfeger takes a throw-in during the final v. Twin CitiesThird photo down: Captain Tommy Dolan raising the cup, Cup presented by Uachtaran Mr. Liam O'Neill
Photos courtesy of the Pearson's