Dowling goal puts seal on Na Piarsaigh glory trail
Na Piarsaigh 2-18 Ballygunner 2-11
Having conquered Munster again, Shane O'Neill will challenge his Na Piarsaigh players to claim the All-Ireland senior club hurling title next March.
The Limerick champions have never lost a game in the province but after previous successes in 2011 and 2013, they fell at the All-Ireland semi-final hurdle on both occasions.
Loughgiel Shamrocks stunned them in 2012 and it was Portumna two years later.
But Na Piarsaigh will try again in February when they come up against Leinster champions Cuala or Oulart-The Ballagh.
And O'Neill, who was still a player in 2012, believes that bitter memories can propel them forward in search of Tommy Moore Cup glory.
He'd rather the next game came sooner rather than later, however.
O'Neill reflected: "It is difficult because you've got December and January and half of February to train for.
"If you kept going - and I know they're looking at doing it next year - you'd have a certain momentum. It's like a whole new season again."
Na Piarsaigh are certainly good enough go all the way.
Yesterday, they lost Kevin Downes before throw-in against Ballygunner, as the forward was ruled out with concussion sustained against Thurles Sarsfields a week earlier.
They looked off the pace in the first half but after going in three points down at the break - 1-4 to 1-7 - their response was emphatic.
Na Piarsaigh opened the second half with five unanswered points as increased half-back line dominance - with Ronan Lynch excellent at the heart of it - provided a match-winning platform.
Up front, their attackers buzzed with renewed energy and while Shane Dowling will grab the headlines with a haul of 1-4, including a brilliant goal in the final minute, there were other stars.
David Dempsey collected 1-2 and All-Ireland U-21 medallist Peter Casey picked off three points.
David Breen deserves a mention too, simply for togging out in the first place.
He had pins removed from a wrist injury just a few days ago but came off the bench to make a huge impact in the second half.
He scored a point and one huge turnover led to another for Kevin Ryan, set up by Dowling.
That work rate was missing in the first half as Ballygunner took the game to the pre-match favourites.
The Gunners were missing big names themselves, brothers Philip and Pauric Mahony out through suspension and injury respectively.
And yet they led by three points at the break, before breeze-assisted Na Piarsaigh came on strong in the bitter cold, with just 2,320 spectators present in Thurles.
Ballygunner were 0-5 to 0-2 clear in the first half but hesitancy in defence allowed Dempsey in for a 20th-minute goal.
Nobody took charge of Mike Foley's cross-field ball and Dempsey took advantage to whip home a ground-stroke.
To their credit, Ballygunner responded with a Tim O'Sullivan goal before half-time but Na Piarsaigh, who have made a habit of producing big second-half displays, were on it again after the break.
They were five clear before Brian O'Sullivan, scorer of 1-6, grabbed a late goal.
The Na Piarsaigh response was excellent as Lynch, Casey and Breen banged over points before Dowling hammered a shot past O'Keeffe into the top corner.
Stephen Power's free for Ballygunner completed the scoring but it was those streaky bursts from Na Piarsaigh in the second half - with runs of 0-5 and 1-3 proving crucial - that did the damage.
The big question now is whether they can march forward to Croke Park on St Patrick's Day. We'll only find out the answer to that in the New Year but for now, Na Piarsaigh are High Kings of Munster - again.
SCORERS - Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 1-4 (2f), D Dempsey 1-2, P Casey 0-3, R Lynch (1f), A Dempsey & K Ryan 0-2 each, M Foley, W O'Donoghue & D Breen 0-1 each. Ballygunner: B O'Sullivan 1-6 (4f, 2 '65s), T O'Sullivan 1-0, S Power 0-2 (1f), S O'Keeffe (f), S O'Sullivan & JJ Hutchinson 0-1 each.
BALLYGUNNER - S O'Keeffe; B Coughlan, E Hayden, I Kenny; H Barnes, D O'Sullivan, S Walsh; B O'Keeffe, C Power; Barry O'Sullivan, S Power, S O'Sullivan; T O'Sullivan, Brian O'Sullivan, P Hogan. Subs: JJ Hutchinson for Hogan (21), C Sheehan for B O'Keeffe (50), D Walsh for Hutchinson (58).
NA PIARSAIGH - P Kennedy; K Breen, K Kennedy, M Casey; M Foley, R Lynch, C King; A Dempsey, W O'Donoghue; S Dowling, D Dempsey, K Ryan; P Gleeson, A Breen, P Casey. Subs: D Breen for Gleeson (39), T Grimes for Ryan (58).
REF - D Kirwan (Cork)