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Piarsaigh storm to Cork title

Hurling

Na Piarsaigh 0-17 Cloyne 0-10
By Diarmuid O’Flynn
A MAGNIFICENT season for Cork hurling was rounded off in splendid fashion at Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday as Na Piarsaigh, with a scintillating second-half display, blew away the brave challenge of a Cloyne side in search of their first ever senior title.

The East Cork side held the upper hand after a tight, tense opening half, four unanswered points in the five minutes before the break putting them one point ahead, 0-7 to 0-6.

Twelve minutes into the second half they had increased that lead, 0-10 to 0-8, their huge support in fine voice; amazingly however, that was it for Cloyne. In the remaining 20 minutes, Na Piarsaigh notched nine points without reply and romped home emphatic winners.

Hardly once in that final period did the ball reach the Cloyne inside line of attack, where the Cusack brothers, Victor and Conor, had looked dangerous early on. The city side gained almost total dominance at midfield and half-back, with John Gardiner giving a breathtaking display.

As expected, Setanta Ó hAilpín started for Na Piarsaigh, replacing Cian O'Mahony at centre-forward.

His finishing was a little rusty but the Aussie Rules star did well, outplayed Maurice Cahill in the opening half, forcing the switch of Diarmuid O'Sullivan to the centre before the break.

O'Sullivan went on to outplay his erstwhile Cork team-mate, but it didn't matter; on a day when they notched their third title, to go with those won in 1990 and 95, Na Piarsaigh had a plethora of stars.

This one could have been labelled the battle of the O'Sullivans. Cloyne had five on their team, all brothers, three of those in defence; Na Piarsaigh had four, two brothers Mark and Colin, three in attack. The Na Piarsaigh O'Sullivans ended with nine points between them, all from play, each one of those more impressive than the next.

Corner-forward Stephen P, despite being extremely closely marked by Eoin O'Sullivan, had four; Stephen R, under pressure from Maurice Cahill, also had four, three of those in the second half; Colin, in an hour-long ding-dong battle with Donal O'Sullivan, had just the one, but had two more by free-taker Aisake Ó hAilpín from fouls on him, also had a hand in several others. That attacking contribution from the three O'Sullivans was critical to the Na Piarsaigh success.

With 22,000 in attendance, it was a pity the torrential recent rains meant conditions underfoot were far from ideal, notwithstanding the preceding intermediate final. That meant a far from impressive opening quarter, Cloyne especially having problems adapting. Five points to one it was after 16 heavy minutes, in favour of Na Piarsaigh, five wides to one also, the city side not making the most of their opportunities. Those misses began to take on an ominous hue as Cloyne, beginning to show the form and undoubted quality that got them to their first senior final, worked their way into the game.

Driven on by the superb, Killian Cronin at full-back, Diarmuid O'Sullivan on the wing outside, they took the game to Na Piarsaigh for the second quarter, and slowly closed the gap. A succession of points, two from midfielder Liam O'Driscoll, another from his partner Mike Naughton, a booming free from his own 65 by Diarmuid O'Sullivan (called against Setanta, but which should in fact have gone the other way), then a point just before the break from veteran Phillip Cahill, after a brilliant crossfield pass by Naughton, and the game had turned, 0-7 to 0-6.

Last thing Cloyne needed at that stage was a break, but it came, gave Na Piarsaigh a chance to re-group. Still, it took them a while to do so, ten minutes in fact, of the second half, but once they did, there was only one team in it. For those final 20 minutes, gamely though Cloyne battled, Na Piarsaigh pulled inexorably ahead, played inspired hurling.

The memory of Thomas Gardiner, uncle of John and David, who died suddenly on Friday night, would surely have played a part in that, because the brothers, John especially, along with Sean Óg O hAilpín, were unbreachable across the half-back line.

Skipper Mark Prendergast also stepped forward, along with his midfield partner Ronan McGregor, as Na Piarsaigh took over the middle sector. Diarmuid O'Sullivan did his best to stem the black-and-amber tide, as did full-back Cronin, veteran Declan Motherway alongside him, giving scoring star Aisake Ó hAilpín nothing from play; team captain Donal Óg Cusack also played his part, a couple of big saves, but there was no denying Na Piarsaigh, not on this day, and their final point, a brilliant stroke from an under-pressure John Gardiner tight on the right sideline, put the icing on a superb second-half display.

Coming up next for the newly-crowned Cork champions, a Munster club semi-final against battle-hardened Toomevara of Tipperary, Sunday next in Thurles. They will be without Setanta for that one, the dual star already in the air and Australia-bound within hours of the final whistle.

Scorers Na Piarsaigh: A. Ó hAilpín 0-5 (0-4 frees, 0-1 65); S.P. O'Sullivan 0-4; S. R. O'Sullivan 0-4; C. O'Sullivan, Setanta Ó hAilpín, R. McGregor, J. Gardiner, 0-1 each.

Cloyne: I. Quinlan 0-3 (0-2 frees); L. O'Driscoll 0-2; M. Naughton 0-2; P. Cahill, V. Cusack, Diarmuid O'Sullivan (frees), 0-1 each.

NA PIARSAIGH: M. O'Sullivan; D. Mannix, R. O'Byrne, D. Murphy; J. Gardiner, D. Gardiner, Sean Óg Ó hAilpin; R. McGregor, M. Prendergast (c); C. O'Sullivan, Setanta Ó hAilpin, S. R. O'Sullivan; A. O hAilpin, C. Connery, S. P. O'Sullivan. Subs: G. Shaw for Connery, 43.

CLOYNE: D. Og Cusack; E. O'Sullivan, K. Cronin, D. Motherway; Diarmuid O'Sullivan, M. Cahill, Donal O'Sullivan; L. O'Driscoll, M. Naughton; P. Cahill, C. O'Sullivan, I. Quinlan; P. O'Sullivan, C. Cusack, V. Cusack.

Subs: C. Lomasney for O'Driscoll, 57. Blood sub: B. Fleming (Cronin 48/48).

Referee: K. Healy (Ballymartle).