Second-half goals prove decisive as Na Piarsaigh eye more Munster glory
Na Piarsaigh 2-15 Thurles Sars 0-17
NA PIARSAIGH'S unbeaten run in the Munster club SHC continues after second-half goals from Peter Casey and David Dempsey put Thurles Sarsfields to the sword at the Gaelic Grounds.
Seven wins and one draw from their eight provincial ties means the city side are now chasing a third Munster title in five years. But they had to rise to the immense challenge thrown down by a dogged Sarsfields side.
Led by Pa Bouke and playing with the aid of a strong first-half breeze, 'Sars' opened brightly and dominted key areas, but crucially they couldn't make it count on the scoreboard.
Na Piarsaigh, minus injured county star David Breen, trailed by three, 0-12 to 0-9, at the break after Shane Dowling's accuracy from placed balls. kept their foothold in the game.
With the wind at their backs in the final 30 minutes, the Limerick champions took the lead in the 38th minute through Casey's goal before Dempsey put the seal on a hard-fought win.
Full-forward Kevin Downes, who had a ding dong battle with Michael Cahill throughout, felt their ability to stay in the game despite early Thurles dominance was the difference.
"Frees are so important this time of the year and when we were up against it, we were able to keep in touch. That was massive for us," Downes said. "Going in at half time, we were in a good position and the aim was to get a couple of goals and crack on. Thankfully we were able to do that."
Thurles selector Paddy McCormack had "no complaints" with the defeat but he did bemoan a missed goal opportunity before half time, which could have swung the game.
"We probably didn't make enough use of the wind but if Lar Corbett's chance had went under rather than over who knows what way the game might have turned," McCormack said.
Dowling opened the scoring with his first of seven frees but it was all Sars in the opening exchanges with Aidan McCormack (2) and Stephen Cahill on target.
Tommy Maher's side hit the first six points, all from play, with Bourke adding a brace and Conor Lanigan also on target before Kevin Ryan hit Na Piarsaigh's first score from play after 10 minutes, 0-6 to 0-3.
Dowling pointed again before Dempsey spurned an excellent goal chance. But Casey and lively midfielder Alan Dempsey were on target as Na Piarsaigh found their rhythm.
McCormack, who troubled Ronan Lynch in the first half, got his third score, quickly followed by another Bourke double but Na Piarsaigh then lay siege to the Thurles goal with two goal chances saved in the one move.
Michael Cahill got an excellent hook on Casey before the Thurles goalkeepr, Paddy McCormack, stopped a Dowling effort, which spurred his side to quickly move upfield, with Bourke converting a free. Corbett had a good goal chance before the break when sent through by Stephen Cahill. However, rather than taking the ball in his hand, he opted to pull first-time and Podge Kennedy spectacularly tipped it over the bar.
Shane O'Neill's side started the new half brightly through Downes but Bourke and Ryan pointed to stay two ahead. Then, with attention focused on Downes, Casey capitalised on sloppy Thurles defending from a high ball to strike to the net.
David Dempsey followed with a point but the Tipp champions were back level at 1-12 to 0-15 when Bourke fired over a free and Billy McCarthy landed a superb point.
Two Dowling frees were cancelled out by Stephen Cahill and Bourke. That would be their last score, however, as a battle-hardened Na Piarsaigh side really rose to the challenge.
Captain Cathal King ventured up from half-back to score before Mike Casey made a superb run from corner-back and delivered a defence-splitting pass to Dempsey, who sent a rocket to the net to cap a fruitful five-minute spell.
Na Piarsaigh held on to book a Munster final meeting with Waterford's Ballygunner next Sunday and Downes cannot wait for another game.
"Ballygunner will be a massive test and we'll be under no illusions. But, it's great to be playing games this time of the year, bring it on," he said.
Downes paid tribute to strength and conditioning coach Darragh Droog, saying they seem to "get stronger with every game" and their physicality and speed was something McCormack felt Sarsfields struggled with throughout.
He said: "We were under pressure in a lot of areas because of their physique. They're big and strong but they're also a fast side and that running game is difficult to deal with."
However, following the tragic death of selector Jack Griffin less than two weeks ago, McCormack declared "immense pride" in their performance and believes they will bounce back.
"I'm so proud of the way our lads reacted over the last while and the fight that they've showed. There are worse things in life than losing, as we've seen, so we'll get over this," said the Thurles mentor.
Scorers - Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling (0-7f), D Dempsey and P Casey (1-1 each), A Dempsey and K Ryan (0-2 each), C King and K Downes (0-1 each). Thurles: P Bourke (0-8, 5f, 1 '65), McCormack (0-3), S Cahill (0-2), J Maher, C Lanigan, L Corbett and B McCarthy (0-1 each).
Na piarsaigh - P Kennedy; M Casey, K Breen, K Kennedy; M Foley, R Lynch, C King; A Dempsey, W O'Donoghue; K Ryan, D Dempsey, S Dowling; P Casey, K Downes, A Breen. Reps: Gleeson for Foley (53).
Thurles - P McCormack; S Maher, M Cahill, David Maher; D Kennedy, P Maher, R Maher; S Cahill, B McCarthy; J Maher, A McCormack, Denis Maher; C Lanigan, L Corbett, P Bourke. Reps: S Lillis for Kennedy (51), T Doyle for Denis Maher (56) and R Ruth for Lanigan (58).
Ref - D Kirwan (Cork)