Thursday 14 December 2017

Peerless Na Piarsaigh put Limerick in lights

Na Piarsaigh 2-25 Cushendall 2-14 AIB All-Ireland Club SHC Final

Cathal King lifts the Tommy Moore Cup (SPORTSFILE)
Cathal King lifts the Tommy Moore Cup (SPORTSFILE)
David Dempsey of Na Piarsaigh tries to find some space in the Cushendall goalmouth (SPORTSFILE)
Na Piarsaigh's Alan Dempsey is tackled by Shane McNaughton (SPORTSFILE)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It still had 35 minutes to run but the AIB All-Ireland senior club hurling title was already on its way to Limerick for the first time.

Na Piarsaigh’s high-speed burst from the starting blocks not only settled them into a smooth rhythm that would have sustained them through a much more difficult challenge, it also ripped the heart from a surprisingly weak Cushendall challenge.

The Antrim champions had looked the real deal when overpowering Sarsfields in the semi-final but, in hindsight, that may have been as much a reflection of the Galway champions’ failings as on Cushendall’s efficiency.

Yesterday’s final was a total mismatch and while Cushendall may take some consolation from outscoring Na Piarsaigh by a point (2-8 to 0-13) in the second half, it distorts the reality of a one-sided encounter.

Inside 30 seconds, Na Piarsaigh were a goal up after a crisp finish from Adrian Breen, who went on to be man of the match. The ease with which their defensive locks were picked so easily was ominous for Cushendall and while they responded with two points, an air of inevitability was already descending on Croke Park.


By the 25th minute, Na Piarsaigh were 2-10 to 0-3 ahead, the second goal coming from Kevin Downes, leaving them looking forward to a trouble-free run to All-Ireland glory.

Na Piarsaigh had targeted an early blitz, on the basis that if they managed to set the agenda Cushendall would have difficulty responding. They haven’t experienced anything like as many high-intensity games as Na Piarsaigh and it showed.

The Limerick men were quicker and slicker, a combination that gave them advantages all over the pitch.

“We felt that if we took them on with pace early on, we would cause them problems,” said Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill.

Problems? They came in waves for a Cushendall defence where Eoghan Campbell did his best to block the first point of entry at No 6, only to see snipers sweeping down the wings.

And if that wasn’t difficult enough to resist, Na Piarsaigh midfielder Alan Dempsey was in menacing mood, regularly manoeuvring himself into space to pick off excellent points.

It was all too much for shell-shocked Cushendall.

“I don’t know if it was nerves or what at the start but it took us 20 minutes to get going. You can’t afford that,” said Cushendall manager John McKillop.

He had travelled to Thurles to watch Na Piarsaigh in the semi-final against Oulart-The Ballagh so he was fully aware of the physical power his side would encounter. They might have coped with that but when it was accompanied with pace, poise and subtlety, Cushendall found the combined package utterly overwhelming.

Still, it was the concession of such an early goal that struck the heaviest psychological blow of all.

“We were on the back foot straight away. Being on the back foot in Croke Park is not good – there’s so much space,” said Cushendall midfielder Shane McNaughton.

He played very well, initially in the middle third and later in a more forward position as Cushendall attempted to rescue the situation in the second half. A goal by Neil McManus off a McNaughton free in the 39th minute encouraged Cushendall but while they continued to battle hard, the best they could hope for was to keep the losing margin down to respectable levels,

Their second goal, scored by sub Karl McKeegan was the best of the day, a deftly flicked effort that deserved to be part of a happier plot line.

However, it came in the 58th minute, far too late to make any real difference on a day that will long be remembered in Na Piarsaigh and beyond in Limerick.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m not usually shy of words bit for once I’m kind of stuck. I’ve always wanted to win this one,” said Shane Dowling.

“There are definitely clubs back home who are going to be jealous but that’s only natural. I would like to think that on the other side of their heads, they are quite happy. Anyone that has Limerick hurling’s best interests at heart will know that a hoodoo has been broken. I think this rubbish of Limerick and Croke Park is dead and buried,” he said.

Na Piarsaigh’s performance will have gladdened the hearts of Limerick hurling supporters, coming just six months after the All-Ireland U-21 success. It all points to an ever-strengthening flow of talent heading in TJ Ryan’s direction

Even allowing for Cushendall’s weaknesses, there really was a lot to admire about Na Piarsaigh in every facet of their performance.

It extended into the half-time when they ignored the 2-12 to 0-6 lead and re-focused for the second half as if the contest was still alive.

“All we were looking for was a performance in the second half,” said Shane O’Neill.

His players certainly didn’t disappoint him.

Scorers – Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 0-7 (5f), A Breen 1-4, K Downes 1-2, A Dempsey 0-4, P Casey 0-3, D Breen 0-2, R Lynch (f), W O’Donoghue, P Gleeson (f) 0-1 each.

Cushendall: N McManus 1-7 (7f), S McNaughton 0-4, K McKeegan 1-0, A Delargy, C Carson, E Campbell 0-1 each.

Na Piarsaigh – P Kennedy 7; M Casey 7, K Breen 7, K Kennedy 7; M Foley 7, R Lynch 7, C King 7; A Dempsey 8, W O’Donoghue 7; S Dowling 8, D Breen 7, A Breen 9; K Downes 8, D Dempsey 7, P Casey 8. Subs: K Ryan for D Breen (54), P Gleeson for O’Donoghue (56).

Cushendall – E Gillan 7; R McCambridge 5, M Burke 6, A Graffin 5; D Kearney 5, E Campbell 7, S Delargy 5; S McNaughton 8, A Delargy 6; C Carson 6, N McManus 7, D McNaughton 5; C McNaughton 5, S McAfee 5, P McGill 5. Subs: P Burke 5 for S Delargy (33), K McKeegan 7 for D McNaughton (37), A McNaughton 6 for C McNaughton (42), E McKillop for Graffin (55), E Laverty for McGill (58).

ref – D Kirwan (Cork)

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