Friday 24 February 2017

Dowling fires Na Piarsaigh to promised land

NA PIARSAIGH 2-18
AHANE 0-13

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Ahane's Paraic Treacy in action against
Damien Quigley, left, and David Lynch
of Na Piarsaigh at the Gaelic Grounds
yesterday
Ahane's Paraic Treacy in action against Damien Quigley, left, and David Lynch of Na Piarsaigh at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday

"Who's laughing now?" asked overjoyed Na Piarsaigh captain Kieran Bermingham as he delivered a passionate acceptance speech from the podium of the Mackey Stand after his club's first ever county SHC success.

It was perhaps a reference to the club's only final appearance two years earlier when they came up against an Adare team with almost unstoppable momentum for three in a row.

Their manager Sean Stack, the great Clare centre-back of the 1970s, recalled how they got a "derisory cheer" when they scored their third point that afternoon in injury-time on their way to a crushing 1-17 to 0-5 defeat.

"They weren't laughing at them. They were sorry for them. It was a pain they had to live with. But you use that," Stack said.

With four semi-final defeats to reflect on, the big question around Limerick in the build-up to this match was whether Na Piarsaigh could hold their nerve to justify overwhelming favouritism.

And when John Meskell and Niall Moran fired over unanswered points within the first four minutes, there was a sense that the weight of tradition attached to such a great club could carry Ahane to an unlikely 20th championship success, leaving Na Piarsaigh in the role of bridesmaids once more.

But within 10 minutes of Moran's first point, it had become evident that all the storied history in the world wasn't going to alter the inevitable coronation of the coming team in Limerick hurling.

By then, Na Piarsaigh had opened up a 1-6 to 0-2 lead with some highly impressive hurling.

If it wasn't for Moran's dogged resilience and touches of class in their engine room, this defeat could have been every bit as embarrassing for Ahane as Na Piarsaigh's was two years earlier.

At all levels of Limerick hurling Na Piarsaigh are a rising tide. Next week seven of their senior team will be involved in the county U-21 final, while progress by the minor, U-16 and U-14 teams has also been strong.

Based just off the Ennis Road within a short distance of the Gaelic Grounds, they are in the process of transforming that part of the north city into a hurling stronghold, a rare urban success story for the game outside Dublin.

A number of their players, including 18-year-old Man of the Match Shane Dowling, who hit 1-10 of the winning total, have come off the Ardscoil Ris conveyor belt which has landed the last two Harty Cups.

Seven were members of the Limerick U-21 team this year and six were involved in that memorable Munster final at the same venue in August when they triumphed over Cork in extra-time.

Put all this exposure to the big time into the mix and the experience had to stand to them some time. This was the day of reckoning and they seized it.

"Those are things that you can't buy, to be a part of a game like that. There were two or three of them on the Limerick team this year and they had a good run," said a delighted Stack, who declared this as comparable to anything he achieved as a player.

Experience

"It all adds up. They have to experience the big days. They have to experience the good days with the bad."

"It's huge relief to win your first championship, especially with a bunch of kids like this. You are always worried if they can cope with final occasions.

"It's always going to be more physical against Ahane especially. They are so experienced and bring such physicality."

Stack singled out the resistance of the Morans for special mention afterwards. Ollie started at full-forward, but with Na Piarsaigh dominance growing midway through the first half, he switched outfield.

"Was it two Morans or five Morans that we played there today? It looked like five -- we couldn't keep the ball away from them.

"Once our young lads learned to battle it out we'd always be confident with Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling, very skilful players. They have a lot of growing up to do yet but they are going to be exceptional players," Stack predicted.

Na Piarsaigh's first goal was a reward for persistence for Downes but there was a freak touch attached too.

As Ahane goalkeeper Tadhg Flynn sought to clear his lines, the young full-forward swept in to execute a perfect block and then had the good fortune to watch it spin back into an empty goal.

Dowling kept picking off some wonderful points off his left, while David Breen was a commanding presence at centre-forward. With captain Bermingham leading by example at corner-back -- his direct opponent Brian Healy was whipped off after 16 minutes -- the momentum was with them everywhere.

It wasn't for the faint-hearted either. The exchanges were hard and sometimes bordered on dangerous. There were numerous stoppages, including one for four minutes in injury-time when Meskell was stretchered off.

Earlier, Niall Moran was lucky to escape dismissal for an altercation with Aidan Hennessy and by the end referee Shane Hourigan had shown 10 yellow cards.

Na Piarsaigh were in a very comfortable position at half-time as they led by 1-11 to 0-7.

As Stack recalled, however, their old failure to consistently win their own puck-outs kicked in for a spell just after the break when Ahane claimed six in a row to cut the deficit to five -- 1-14 to 0-12 -- with points from Moran (two frees), substitute Sean Madden and Dan Morrissey.

But a foul on Breen at the other end in the 47th minute presented Dowling with a penalty and the minor despatched it powerfully to restore an eight-point lead.

It was elementary after that. Na Piarsaigh ran in Damien Quigley, one of Limerick's 1994 All Stars to join his 1994-96 Limerick colleague Shane O'Neill, for the moment near the end.

"The famine is over," declared an excited Bermingham from the podium. "Let the feast begin."

They may have to be forced from the table in years to come.

Scorers -- Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 1-10 (1-0 pen, 7f), K Downes 1-1, P Gleeson, D Breen, A Breen all 0-2 each, S O'Neill 0-1. Ahane: N Moran 0-5 (3f), S Madden, J Meskell(1f) 0-2 each, D Morrissey, O Moran, P O'Connor, F Ahern all 0-1 each.

Na Piarsaigh -- P Kennedy; A Hennessy, K Breen, K Bermingham; A Dempsey, J O'Brien, B Hartnett; C King, P Gleeson; R Sheehan, D Breen, S O'Neill; S Dowling, K Downes, K Ryan. Subs: A Breen for Sheehan (h-t), D Lynch for Dempsey (41), D Quigley for Ryan (59), K Kennedy for Gleeson (61).

Ahane -- T Flynn; A Doherty, D Madden, J Doheny; C O'Reilly, M Carr, P Treacy; N Moran; F Ahern; D Morrissey, J Meskell, D Laing; B Healy, O Moran, R Ryan. Subs: S Madden for Healy (16), M Foley for D Madden (31), P O'Connor for Meskell (36), S O'Connor for Laing (42), C Ryan for Doheny (54).

Ref -- S Hourigan (Rathkeale)

Irish Independent

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