Saturday 24 March 2018

Na Piarsaigh hoping to end their long wait

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THE search for a new Limerick hurling manager continues, but in the meantime, the stakes are high for Ahane and Na Piarsaigh, who contest the county senior hurling final at the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow.

Ahane's chequered history always evokes images of the great Mick Mackey, Jackie Power, the Herbert clan and so many other fine hurlers who graced the club jersey with style and passion.

Unfortunately, tradition will count for nothing against Na Piarsaigh as the present generation of Ahane men, including the Morans, Niall and Ollie, fully appreciate.

Their team, under the direction of John Meskell Snr -- his son John plays in midfield -- have knocked on the door a few times since Ahane last won the championship in 2004, only to find it closing firmly in their face.

At least Ahane know what it's like to win a county senior title, unlike city club Na Piarsaigh, based in Caherdavin, close to the Gaelic Grounds.

Formed in 1968, Na Piarsaigh have a huge hunger for a breakthrough, and they have the right man in place to help them achieve it.

Sean Stack, the former Clare hurler, knows all about the struggle to break the bonds of repeated failure.

As a player with the Banner side of the '70s and early '80s, Stack featured on teams which brought national league honours to Clare, but a Munster title remained out of reach.

Provincial success only came in the '90s, when Stack had retired, and finally Clare achieved the Holy Grail of an All-Ireland in 1995.

At club level with Sixmilebridge, Stack's era coincided with the club winning its first senior Clare title back in 1977, and since then, they have won 10 county championships.


The moral of the story is that with persistence and ambition, dreams can eventually come true, and for Na Piarsaigh, manager Stack remains hopeful. He is now in his third year with the club, who reached the 2009 final, only to slump badly on the day and lose to Adare.

They got to the semi-finals last year, but could not get past Kilmallock. Third time lucky?

"We've never won a championship and the great burden is to break the duck and they seem to come easier after that," said Stack. "The first one is a big psychological barrier for us. Ahane have 19 championships won, so we have that hurdle to cross.

"We were in the final two years ago and the lads have grown up quite a lot since then, even though we still have a very young team.

"Seven of our club U-21 team are on the senior team. They have matured a lot, because we also had seven of them on the Limerick U-21 panel this year and six of them have played with Ardscoil Ris in the last two All-Ireland colleges finals, so they've a lot of experience for kids.

"We're just hoping for the best. If we can win one championship, we can visualise winning quite a few."

Former Liverpool defender and TV pundit Alan Hansen famously commented about Manchester United early in the 1995-96 season: "You'll win nothing with kids" and was proven spectacularly wrong.

Na Piarsaigh have seven 'kids', all members of the Limerick U-21 panel which won the Munster title this year, and they haven't done too badly so far.

The seven who hope to be magnificent tomorrow are: Alan Dempsey, James O'Brien, Pat Gleeson, Shane Dowling, Kevin Downes, Adrian Breen, and Kieran Kennedy.

These lads have also been involved in one or the other of the Ardscoil Ris Limerick's All-Ireland colleges wins in 2010 and earlier this year.

The county final brings its own demands, and in that respect, Na Piarsaigh hope to draw on their experience of '09. They also took this year's county league title.

"The lads are clued in this year, and we won the county league for the first time.

"To have the level of consistency to win every league match, to win nine out of nine, it means there's great maturity in the group, because you'll always have the flat day that you won't play well, but you'll dig out a result, and they're beginning to learn that now," said Stack.

Ollie Moran plays in his sixth county final -- his first was in 1998 -- and makes the point that Ahane are by no means short of young players in their side.

"I think that's been played up a bit, that we're more experienced," said Moran. "Seven or eight of their team have played inter-county at senior level at various stages. Very little is being made of that.

"They've as much experience as we have. This year, of our guys, we've three or four minors in the panel and we must have eight or nine U-21s in the panel in general.

"We do have a core of fellas that have been around a good few years all right, but certainly Na Piarsaigh have as much experience in their side," said Moran.

Ahane's last final appearance was in 2008 when they lost to Adare. This year the east Limerick club defeated a fancied Adare side in the quarter-finals and though they needed a replay before ousting divisional outfit Emmets in the semi-finals, Moran feels confident.

"It's a big occasion. Thankfully, I've been around a bit, so the novelty factor is definitely gone, but you still get the goose bumps and you'd be looking forward to the game.

"To be honest, you're better able to handle it the older you get. It doesn't become quite as big an issue anyway.

"This will be my sixth one. I've won three so far, so going for four out of six wouldn't be the worst thing in the world," said Moran.

Irish Independent

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