Dowling the driving force
Na Piarsaigh sharpshooter inspires fightback as Crusheen boss Browne rallies troops for replay
Published 28/11/2011 | 05:00
The contrast between the deathly silence that greeted the final whistle and the noise generated by the manic, pulsating nature of the minutes that preceded it could not have been greater.
Yet the consensus is that both sides deserve to be returning to Thurles for another tilt at a first ever Munster title next Sunday (2.0) after an exhaustive hour at Semple Stadium.
An unusually sticky surface compounded the difficulty of hurling at the end of November, but most of the mistakes that dotted those final minutes were borne of nerves and perhaps a little over-eagerness at the prospect of winning this title for the first time.
For Na Piarsaigh, it was the second time in this provincial campaign that they had to dig deep and come from behind.
The scale of the comeback this time was much smaller, but, in the conditions, it was significant nonetheless.
For such a young team in development the experience of their two outings in Waterford and here can't be a bad thing.
Their manager Sean Stack admitted that half of his attack had not performed to the best of their ability and that gives them ample scope to work and improve during the seven-day turnaround.
But they face a defence that thrives on parsimony, backboned by three Dillon brothers and two Brigdale brothers. For a long time, they were ahead in five of the six personal duels played out.
Only Shane Dowling, the hugely talented 18-year-old who has blazed a scoring trail this season for the emerging Caherdavin club, could really reflect on a satisfying day. David Breen also regained some momentum near the end.
"We know at least half our forward line did not perform to the best of their ability. But you perform as well as you are let. Crusheen have a fair outfit," said Stack.
"Any inter-county forward would find themselves struggling against those six guys," was the ultimate compliment the former Clare centre-back could pay.
That said Crusheen, who only won their first Clare title last year, will have come away a little disappointed that they did not keep their foot on the gas when they held a commanding four-point lead, 0-11 to 1-4, early in the second half.
A forceful Dowling penalty in the 16th minute, courtesy of Cronan Dillon's foul on full-forward Kevin Downes, gave Na Piarsaigh a 1-3 to 0-4 lead, but they didn't score again for the remainder of the half as Crusheen executed an impressive lockdown around their goal.
Wing-back Cathal Dillon delivered a towering performance while Pat Vaughan profited from the freedom of his role, as Crusheen withdrew Fergus Kennedy to midfield for extra support.
Gerard O'Grady caused constant trouble at full-forward for Crusheen and his ability to win ball and hold up to bring others around into the play was a big influence in helping to forge a 0-9 to 1-3 interval lead.
Patrick Meaney was one of those to benefit, picking off consecutive scores in response to the penalty to restore parity.
Their failure to score for those 16 minutes of the opening half after the Dowling goal was a cause of concern for Stack.
"People don't realise that you will have troughs. I didn't realise that our trough was so long, that we went so long without a score. It's a bit worrying," he said.
Dowling started the second half with a converted free, but Crusheen kept pressing their advantage with O'Grady capitalising on a steal by Meaney and Kennedy using his pace to open up that four-point lead.
But from there to the end it was Na Piarsaigh who had the upper hand as their half-backs, Alan Dempsey in particular, became dominant.
Dowling, who possesses wonderful ability under a dropping ball, edged them closer with a trio of frees by the three-quarter mark.
A Vaughan free gave Crusheen brief respite, but Na Piarsaigh kept pressing with Cathal King, now playing at midfield, and Dowling (free) drawing them level.
Crusheen would lead once more before Na Piarsaigh made their surge for glory.
Substitute John Madden got them level again, but progress was stalled by weak shots from Breen and Dowling that dropped into goalkeeper Donal Tuohy's grateful arms.
Eventually, Breen found his range under pressure to put Na Piarsaigh ahead, but a Vaughan free after Kennedy was fouled ensured there would be another day for both teams.
"There are always things you could have done differently," acknowledged Crusheen manager Michael Browne.
"But probably, what I'd be looking at is the fact that there were a couple of frees, especially in the early stages, that we didn't put over and we normally would.
"Then there were a couple of balls that came back off the upright, and they might have made all the difference.
"We seemed to be a bit nervous at the very start and I don't understand that to be honest, because we'd prepared for this game the same as we had for every other game I suppose it was the occasion; the bigger the occasion, the more likely lads need time to respond to it."
Criticism of the choice of venue in the build-up -- many felt a toss for home draw would have been more convenient -- may have led to a disappointing 2,893 crowd, but they got value for their journey.
"Who gets their head around it, that's the team that is going to win," said Stack.
You couldn't help feeling the experience could bring his team on that bit more.
Scorers -- Crusheen: P Vaughan 0-5 (3f, 1 '65'), F Kennedy, P Meaney 0-2 each, C O'Doherty (1f), Cathal Dillon, J Fitzgibbon, D Forde, G O'Grady 0-1 each. Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-6f), D Breen, A Breen, C King, J Madden 0-1 each.
Crusheen -- D Tuohy; S Brigdale, Cronan Dillon, A Brigdale; C O'Doherty, Cian Dillon, Cathal Dillon; P Vaughan, J Meaney; G O'Donnell, J Fitzgibbon, D Forde; P Meaney, G O'Grady, F Kennedy. Subs: C O'Donnell for Forde (55).
Na Piarsaigh -- P Kennedy; C King, K Breen, K Bermingham; B Hartnett, J O'Brien, A Dempsey; P Gleeson, K Kennedy; K Ryan, D Breen, S O'Neill; S Dowling,K Downes, A Breen. Subs: D Lynch for A Breen (h-t), A Hennessy for Bermingham (44), J Madden for Gleeson (50) D Quigley for O'Neill (57).
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).