Downes 'still haunted' by big Adare defeat as Na Piarsaigh eye final
GAA players wouldn't be renowned for their forensic attention to scoreboard detail, but the result of the 2009 Limerick SHC final is permanently planted in the mind of Kevin Downes. "1-17 to three points... we won't forget that in a hurry," he recalls with a wince.
Today, Downes is part of the same Na Piarsaigh outfit that is now just one hour away from an All-Ireland final. They've claimed two of the last three Limerick titles; they are no longer boys, but men.
But reaching this juncture – they face the renaissance kings from Portumna in Saturday's AIB club semi-final at Thurles – has arguably only come about because of some painful lessons absorbed along the way. None more traumatic than '09.
That lopsided horror show involved a callow Na Piarsaigh appearing in the club's first senior decider against a battle-hardened Adare chasing three in a row.
In retrospect, there could be only one outcome – but what really rankled the Limerick city outfit, and arguably still does, was the 17-point margin.
Downes, then a precocious minor, was their only scorer on the day. It wasn't a happy few weeks around the Caherdavin clubhouse.
"I was on the minor team as well and we lost the county final," he points out. "And we lost the intermediate football. We lost some camogie final as well!
"But that definitely stood to us. Jesus, sure that was haunting us all that winter. It still does really. But we were boys really playing in a county final; we kind of got on a roll and Adare were on a good streak at that time and they completely blitzed us altogether.
"But definitely it's character-building and we came back stronger, much stronger."
More than four years on, Na Piarsaigh have come on in silver-laden leaps and bounds.
In 2011, they finally reached the Limerick SHC summit with an 11-point win over Ahane.
They duly conquered Munster only to come up short in an All-Ireland semi-final that went to extra-time before a Liam Watson-inspired Loughgiel stormed to victory.
Now they're back at the same penultimate stage, having blitzed Sixmilebridge in the Munster final by 4-14 to 0-8. This surprising cakewalk followed three consecutive two-point victories; in the county final against Adare (revenge is a dish best served cold), Loughmore-Castleiney of Tipp and Passage of Waterford.
Downes repeats that familiar mantra about "character-building games. Bad conditions. Everything going against you. To win those by a couple of points is a massive boost".
Now for Portumna, back on a stage the Galway kingpins dominated for a large chunk of the late noughties, winning three All-Irelands between '06 and '09.
"We'd still be young, but we've been through a lot as well, we've played plenty of big games – obviously not as much as Portumna, but we've had the hard knocks along the road and know what to expect," says the 22-year-old Limerick forward.
"We're definitely more battle-hardened. In Limerick especially, there'd have been questions about our ... whatever you want to call it. But I think this year we've shown that we're well able to do it."
He still harbours regrets about their 2011 semi-final against Loughgiel, when Watson hit them for 16 points.
"For anyone to score that much, I suppose, was a shock, but we knew all about Liam Watson," Downes protests. "They got a run on us that day and we never really got into it as much as we could.
"We weren't prepared properly, looking back. Not that we weren't prepared, but it's a new challenge altogether at Parnell Park to play an All-Ireland semi-final. So maybe we weren't fully prepared for what was in store, but hopefully we are now."