Downes sets the tone for Na Piarsaigh to grind it out
Na Piarsaigh 0-14 Adare 0-12 - Limerick SHC Final
FROM the steps of the stand in the Gaelic Grounds, Na Piarsaigh captain James O'Brien pointed out that they had delivered on a promise they had made to themselves; a promise to return to this spot.
After their breakthrough title in 2011, the club were back as kingpins of Limerick – but two titles in three years only tells part of their story.
In 2009, things were very different for Na Piarsaigh. They landed in their first county final in hope rather than expectation as they faced three-in-a-row-chasing Adare.
The champions were merciless, running out 1-17 to 0-3 winners, but the experience Na Piarsaigh have gained since then in winning a county and provincial title meant they were able to deliver on the favourites' tag they carried into yesterday's game.
It was no classic, with conditions ensuring a difficult day for both sets of players and not much for any prospective Limerick manager to go on.
It was tight all the way, though Adare managed the first score of the game through a Declan Hannon free.
It was the city side who adapted to the greasy conditions quicker. With Kevin Downes consistently finding space, Na Piarsaigh reeled off the next five scores to take control inside the first quarter.
And they might have been further ahead but for some wasteful shooting that saw them rack up seven wides inside the first 30 minutes.
Adare closed the gap to three through Conor Fitzgerald before the lively Willie Griffin forced a penalty after he was dragged down by Kieran Breen.
However, Declan Hannon, who endured a difficult day from placed balls in Limerick's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Clare, saw his shot forced wide by Shane Dowling, who was operating at midfield. Hannon's subsequent '65' also strayed wide of the posts.
Still, Adare weren't deterred and they reeled off another three scores through two excellent Hannon frees and a Diarmuid Sexton effort from play to draw level with just under 10 minutes remaining in the half.
There was time still for Na Piarsaigh to reassert themselves and Adrian Breen, Downes and David Dempsey all found their range to hand the 2011 champions a three-point cushion at the break (0-8 to 0-5).
Sean Stack's side deserved that lead but on the restart they drifted out of the game once more and within 12 minutes of the second period, Adare were level.
Hannon fired over a free before the impressive John Fitzgibbon hit two on the bounce to tie the game up. But, as was the case in the first half, Dave Keane's side couldn't get their noses in front and Dowling and Downes, with his fourth from play, pushed the city side two clear once more.
Again and again, Adare went to the well with the memory of defeat in last year's county final driving them on. They got to within a point twice more before the final whistle with Hannon – who afterwards picked up the award for the top scorer in the championship – punishing every indiscretion.
But, with the clock ticking down and scores hard to come by, Adare needed a goal.
Only once did Padraig Kennedy's goal look threatened but even then the thoroughly excellent Michael Casey was on had to clear the danger.
With the last act of the game, they had a chance to drop a late free around the square but Fitzgibbon overcooked his delivery, it sailed harmlessly wide and Na Piarsaigh were champions again. "The conditions were bad," agreed man of the match Kevin Downes, whose side meet the Tipperary champions on October 27.
"At the start of the game we just had to grind it out and every point was key. We're just glad of the win and delighted we came out the right side of it.
"It was very wet but it was the same for both teams so we just tried to keep it simple. Thankfully, it worked out. Some days they go wide and some days they go over, but we got enough to get us over the line.
"Adare have been in I don't know how many finals in the last 10 years so they have been around the block and know exactly what they have to do.
"So we knew exactly what we had to do and we were well prepared and we got the right result."
SCORERS – Na Piarsaigh: K Downes, S Dowling (4fs) 0-4 each, A Dempsey, A Breen 0-2 each, D Sheppard, D Dempsey 0-1 each. Adare: D Hannon 0-7 (6fs), D Sexton, J Fitzgibbon 0-2 each, C Fitzgerald 0-1.
Na Piarsaigh – P Kennedy; N Buckley, K Breen, M Casey; C King, D Breen, J O'Brien; S Dowling, A Dempsey; W O'Donoghue, K Downes, D Dempsey; K Kennedy, K Ryan, A Breen. Subs: D Sheppard for Kennedy (48), P Gleeson for O'Donoghue (56),
Adare – S O'Donoghue; D Dillon, JP Healy, S Lavin; R Kennedy, W McNamara, M Clifford; J Fitzgibbon, J Hannon; C Fitzgerald, P Keane, D Sexton; W Griffin, D Hannon, M Lyons. Subs: PJ Hall for J Hannon (36), A O'Connell for Lyons (39), L O'Brien for Hall (58),
Ref – J Murphy (Ballylanders/Glenroe)