Genius of Dowling turns the tide for 13-man Na Piarsaigh
Na Piarsaigh 3-15 slaughtneil 3-8
Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O'Neill could do little at the end of his side's impressive recovery after trailing Slaughtneil by three points at half-time but express his joy over Shane Dowling's goal that ended this as a contest.
Despite losing Conor Boylan and Tommy Grimes to red cards just after half-time, the introduction of Dowling had a transformative effect on the game. They were four points clear with 10 minutes left when he produced a moment of sheer genius.
With Oisín O'Doherty looking to clear, Dowling nipped in with a brilliant block, scrambling to gather the loose ball before lifting it over Sean Cassidy's head and catching it shoulder-height like a rocket to the net. "Shane's skill level is just pure class," his manager acknowledged.
"It was a brilliant finish he flicked it up for himself, then just buried it; very few players if anyone would be able to do that. That's the quality that he has and now hopefully we'll be able to get him back fully, fully fit for the final."
Facing Cuala in the St Patrick's Day decider, O'Neill declared this contest as, "The maddest one I've ever been involved with, without a doubt.
"To be down to 13 and then the composure that the lads showed delivering the right ball, there's no point spraying ball into space when they had two extra men back there so the boys took it on themselves to just go direct and give it straight in.
"When they did it, in fairness to Shane, when he came on he must have won every ball, either he got a touch on it or laid it off or passed it; he was superb when he came on. Mad match but great to come out the other side of it."
Slaughtneil had got off to a great start, racing into the lead when Cormac O'Doherty converted a penalty. Although the Munster champions grabbed one themselves when Conor Boylan wriggled inside Seán Cassidy, it was cancelled out a minute later when Brendan Rogers unselfishly played Brian Cassidy in for a goal.
The introduction of Dowling changed everything and although Slaughtneil tired, their manager Michael McShane made only one change. Ronan Lynch's excellence from placed balls formed a huge chunk of his 14 points for the afternoon, while Slaughtneil never truly got into matters for the second half despite having two extra men on the pitch.
"You'd think if you had two extra men, it would work to your advantage," stated McShane afterward.
"It made no difference to their defence. You have to give Na Piarsaigh credit, our inside line were totally on top in the first half. We scored a goal and should've had another goal. We were getting a lot of mileage out of our inside line and they seemed to really tighten up in the second half."
The Derry club still hope to bump into Na Piarsaigh on St Patrick's Day with their upcoming football semi-final against Nemo Rangers, but McShane rejects the notion that they will never have a better chance to reach an All-Ireland hurling final.
"We have improved from last year. Our performance today was a lot better than it was against Cuala last year," he said.
"What they've got to do is come back next year with the same steel and resolve to keep going at it. To keep knocking on that door until they break it down and I do believe in this team. The age profile is good. This team is far from its peak."
Scorers - Na Piarsaigh: R Lynch 0-14 (10f, 1 65); C Boylan, S Dowling, K Downes 1-0 each; P Casey 0-1. Slaughtneil: B Cassidy 1-2; C O'Doherty 1-0 (1-0 pen); 0-3 (2f); G Bradley 1-0; B Rogers, C McKaigue, M McGrath 0-1 each.
Na Piarsaigh - P Kennedy; J Boylan, M Casey, N Buckley; A Dempsey, C King, T Grimes; R Lynch, W O'Donoghue; A Breen, D Breen, D Dempsey; C Boylan, K Downes, P Casey. Subs: S Dowling for A Breen (35), K Ryan for D Breen (54), K Kennedy for Dempsey (56).
Slaughtneil - O O'Doherty; P McNeill, Sean 'Tad' Cassidy, K McKaigue; Shane McGuigan, M McGrath, C McKenna; E Cassidy, C McAllister; C McKaigue, B Rodgers, G Bradley; C O'Doherty, M McGuigan, B Cassidy. Subs: G O'Kane for McAllister (50).
Ref - J Keenan (Wicklow)