Sunday 17 December 2017

Future has arrived for Limerick's urban revolutionaries


TWO YEARS ago, Adare subjected Na Piarsaigh to a humiliating 15-point defeat in the Limerick senior hurling final.

Fast forward to 2011 and the pain of that embarrassing loss was still evident just seven weeks back when the club's overjoyed captain Kieran Bermingham delivered a passionate acceptance speech from the Mackey Stand moments after the Limerick city side had beaten Ahane to finally land a first county title.

"Who's laughing now?" Bermingham asked no one in particular, referring to the ironic and perhaps derisory cheers that a couple of injury-time scores had received against Adare in 2009. On that occasion, they only recorded 0-5 in total. It was a complete flop. Na Piarsaigh manager Seán Stack explained to the media that the whole episode had cut to the bone. "They (Adare) weren't laughing at the lads -- they were sorry for them," he said. "It was a pain they had to live with. But you use that."

And use it they did.

With four semi-final defeats to reflect on over the past five years, the city club was finally able to throw a monkey off its back by landing that senior championship and Stack's input was crucial -- he has previously tasted provincial honours with his native Sixmilebridge and Tipperary giants Toomevara.

But Stack is lucky too -- he has plenty of raw materials at his disposal here. Na Piarsaigh are the coming team in Limerick hurling; they contested every underage county final this season, recently claimed a minor title and seven of their senior team were involved in this year's county under 21 decider. Meanwhile, progress by the under 16 and under 14 teams is exceptionally strong.

Based just off the Ennis Road within a short distance of the Gaelic Grounds, they are blatantly transforming the north side of the city into a hurling mainstay, reversing the trend of urban success rates within the GAA. Previously, the club lost underage talent to rugby and soccer once players hit 16, but that trend has been defiantly bucked.

Many of their central figures, including the brilliant teenager Shane Dowling, have big-game experience and quite a few have emerged from Niall Moran's Ardscoil Rís conveyor belt which claimed successive Harty Cup crowns. Six of the club's senior side played against Cork in that epic Munster under 21 final in August.

There is serious dedication within the ranks too -- since the county final win against Ahane, both their 'keeper Pádraig Kennedy and centrefielder Cathal King have departed these shores for work but returned for the Munster semi-final against Ballygunner and will again feature in today's provincial final against Crusheen. Kennedy and another clubmate Eoin Hogan left for Boston while King, a traditional musician, has commuted from France to Limerick in the lead-up to this afternoon's winner-takes-all clash.

While they are undoubtedly backboned by young talent like Dowling, David Breen, Kevin Downes and wing-backs Kieran Bermingham and Brian Hartnett, there is still vital experience on board in the shape of ex-county senior Shane O'Neill and former All Star Damien Quigley.

Quigley spent the bones of 20 years trying to land that elusive county title and overcame a series of injury setbacks to finally reach the Holy Grail. Now 40, the club's first All Star is still best remembered for an acrobatic goal against Offaly in the 1994 final, a strike that is ranked 46th of the greatest hurling goals of all time

It was fitting that such a loyal servant, who had spent the year with the club's junior team, received a chance to come on in the final minute of their county senior final win, 17 years after scoring 2-3 in a heartbreaking All-Ireland final defeat for Limerick. Some of that enduring pain was surely eased when he finally clasped his hands on his county medal and not surprisingly they've all been buzzing since.

But they're focused on winning more. A fortnight after beating Ahane, Stack took the squad to west Clare with four weeks still to kill before meeting Ballygunner. He put them through hell on Lahinch beach where they trained on a dirty Sunday morning before travelling to Hennessy Park in Miltown Malbay for a game amongst themselves. The rain never eased off but that weekend focused them on the task at hand -- Limerick teams have a horrible record in Munster club hurling since Kilmallock in 1994 but Na Piarsaigh wanted to rectify that. They ended up wiping Ballygunner out in the semi-final by six points.

Today, they meet a Crusheen team who drop back their half-forwards and midfielders and look to the veteran Cronan Dillon and the likes of Pat Vaughan, Patrick Meaney, David Forde and Jamie Fitzgibbon for inspiration.

Both sides are seeking a first Munster senior title but publicly, Stack has stated that his side won't fully peak for at least another two years -- now, if you fall for that, you'd swallow anything.

The club currently lies in a great place with oceans of emerging young talent available to complement their manager's fine pedigree. Maybe the future has already arrived.

Crusheen v Na Piarsaigh TG4 Live 2.0

Oulart-The Ballagh v Coolderry,

deferred coverage

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