Supersub Breen lends finishing touch to magnificent breakthrough for Na Piarsaigh
LIMERICK hurling's revival continued apace yesterday when city side Na Piarsaigh became the first team from the county in 17 years to win the provincial title.
Captain Kieran Bermingham summed it up best in his entertaining bilingual acceptance speech, saying: "We're known for our rugby but now we'll be known for our hurling too."
Not since Kilmallock in '94 had a Limerick club won Munster. The scoreline at the end of this thrilling replayed final in Thurles somewhat flatters the first-time champions because their gutsy Clare opponents Crusheen led by three points with 15 minutes remaining.
But it was then that Na Piarsaigh's younger legs kicked on to score 1-7 without reply, and the Caherdavin men, first-time county champions this year, powered on to a historic victory.
As expected, a Limerick teenager was in the thick of it, but not quite the one everyone expected. Local prodigy Shane Dowling (18) had, by his standards, a relatively quiet day.
His vision and three frees (one '65') in that last quarter played a vital part, but Dowling only got his first score in the 44th minute.
Instead, it was 19-year-old super-sub Adrian Breen who was the hero of Na Piarsaigh's most famous day.
The young UCC pharmacy student, son of selector PJ, was replaced by David Lynch before the throw-in and, when sprung from the bench before half-time, missed a gilt-edged chance. But he later found his rhythm brilliantly at top of the left, linking with county stars Kevin Downes and the excellent David Breen to finish as the game's top scorer with 1-3 from play.
"I think it suited me more coming into the game. I had a chance to see who I'd be marking and I adapted my game to that but it took the guts of 50 minutes to open them up," the teenager said.
"I can't believe it," he grinned, as wild celebrations went on around him. "I wasted the easiest score of the game but that made me even more determined to get back into it. It was a case of not panicking and that's what's got us this far."
Crusheen took the defeat with great grace, despite having a first-half penalty claim ignored by referee Cathal McAllister, who was fairly parsimonious all day and only awarded five frees in the first 30 minutes.
"I'm not going to criticise the referee," insisted beaten manager Michael Browne. "They have a job to do and they're doing their very best and it wasn't easy. There were a few things that I would wonder about but sometimes, when you look at them on DVD afterwards, you realise it was right."
Browne agreed that Na Piarsaigh's younger legs ultimately made the difference.
Na Piarsaigh boss Sean Stack, who said he was "in dreamland," echoed that, despite some mixed feelings over beating a club from his native county.
"We knew that if we got to the 45-minute barrier we had a serious chance," Stack said, pointing to Brian Hartnett's marking of David Forde, and Crusheen's withdrawal of their No 12 after 45 minutes, as a pivotal moment. "Maybe they shouldn't have (taken Forde off) because he is their main engine and our lads spotted him going off."
Just 2,486 supporters, 400 down on last week, came to witness this riveting re-match and were rewarded with performances that defied the arctic conditions.
Opposing full-backs -- Cronan Dillon and Kieran Breen -- were outstanding and Na Piarsaigh's James O'Brien, Cathal King and David Breen were inspirational.
It started bizarrely, with three Na Piarsaigh players booked inside the first three minutes and took until the seventh minute for Downes' opening score.
A second point from the county star and another from Kevin Ryan put them two clear but Crusheen hit back with four unanswered points and could have gone further ahead had Fergus Kennedy then been awarded a 17th-minute penalty for a challenge by Kieran Breen.
The Banner side still led at half-time (0-5 to 0-4) despite shooting six wides but Na Piarsaigh already looked more dangerous closer to goal and had a shot off the upright, as well as Breen's miss.
On the resumption they looked even more ominous, not least when David Breen put Shane O'Neill through on goal but he shot wide.
Crusheen centre-forward Jamie Fitzgibbon and Pat Vaughan then led them back to another three-point lead, with their half-backs outstanding throughout. But Na Piarsaigh, inspired by a point from supersub Breen, found another gear.
Ciaran O'Doherty pulled off one heroic block before Dowling found Downes, who laid it off to Breen to goal two minutes from the end and the winners' supersub then tagged on two points to seal the deal.
Scorers -- Na Piarsaigh: A Breen 1-3, S Dowling 0-3 (2f, 1 '65'), D Breen, K Downes 0-2 each, C King, K Ryan, K Kennedy 0-1 each. Crusheen: J Fitzgibbon 0-4, P Vaughan 0-3 (2f), T Meaney, D Forde 0-1 each.
Na Piarsaigh -- P Kennedy; D Lynch, K Breen, K Bermingham; B Hartnett, J O'Brien A Dempsey; P Gleeson, C King; S O'Neill, D Breen, K Ryan; S Dowling, K Downes, K Kennedy. Subs: A Breen for Gleeson (28), A Hennessy for Bermingham (39), J Madden for O'Neill (48).
Crusheen -- D Tuohy; J Brigdale, C Dillon, A Brigdale; C O'Doherty, C Dillon, C Dillon; P Vaughan, T Meaney; G O'Donnell, J Fitzgibbon, D Forde; P Meaney, G O'Grady, F Kennedy. Subs: C O'Donnell for G O'Donnell (45), S Dillon for T Meaney (50).
Ref -- C McAllister (Cork)