Na Piarsaigh 2-13 Kilmallock 2-12
The champions dethroned in Limerick, Na Piarsaigh just about surviving a storming finish by 2012 kingpins Kilmallock in this second Limerick SHC semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.
Had Na Piarsaigh been denied, however, it would have been a gross injustice as they were the better team throughout.
The sending off in the 53rd minute of Na Piarsaigh county star Kevin Downes for a second yellow card (both of the silly and needless variety) gave Kilmallock a lifeline in a game where they were playing second fiddle to the sharper and hungrier champions of 2011. At that stage Na Piarsaigh were six points in front (2-12 to 1-9) and despite playing with a strong wind at their backs, Kilmallock were in serious trouble.
With the man advantage, however, and cultured centre-back Gavin O’Mahony moved to centre-forward, the champions suddenly discovered the kind of form they had shown in reaching this stage unbeaten. And for those the final minutes, they applied almost incessant pressure.
Anchored by the sterling Breen brothers Kieran (full-back) and David (centre-back), Na Piarsaigh managed to hold out, but only just. In fact had Kilmallock a free-taker of the calibre of Na Piarsaigh’s Shane Dowling, they would probably have stolen this.
As it had been in the earlier semi-final, Adare beating Doon in a nail-biter, the wind was a major factor. Blowing directly down field into the city end, Na Piarsaigh used it to maximum advantage in the first half and led 0-7 to 0-1 after 13 minutes with Shane Dowling, playing in the unfamiliar position of midfield, where he was the star of the show, hitting five of those points.
Kilmallock did come briefly into the game at that stage, a point apiece from captain Paudie O’Brien, free-taker Kevin O’Donnell and Eoin Ryan bringing them within three.
The second quarter however was when Na Piarsaigh really put their stamp on this tie. Two goals they scored, the first of those crashed home by corner-forward Kevin Ryan after a Kieran Kennedy centre, the second falling to Dowling after a huge Cathal King clearance — no better man from 10 yards! Three points also, wing-back James O’Brien with the pick of those, gave them a commanding 10-point lead at the break, 2-10 to 0-6.
Wind-assisted in the second half, Kilmallock made early inroads into the deficit with points from Kevin O’Donnell and Jake Mulcahy in the opening four minutes.
Thereafter, however, they struggled as the Na Piarsaigh defence was in superb form.
Mind you, Kilmallock didn’t help their own cause up front. A lack of concentration allowed Na Piarsaigh win repeated short puck-outs from which they managed to work the ball up field. Inaccuracy, especially from placed balls, was also costing the champions dearly.
Entering the final quarter Na Piarsaigh still held a commanding lead, 2-11 to 0-9, when an unfortunate own goal by Kieran Breen from a long Liam Walsh delivery gave Kilmallock hope.
Driven on by captain O’Brien in midfield they began to apply the pressure but Na Piarsaigh, Dowling still doing well in general play, were comfortably repelling all attacks. Then came Downes’ rush of blood to the head, a petty pull across his county-mate Gavin O’Mahony, heralding that late hectic finish.
Justice done in the end and Na Piarsaigh will now probably be favourites in the final. They’ll need to be better than this against Adare, however.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling (1-7, 3 frees, one 65), K Ryan (1-0), A Breen, K Downes (0-2 each), J O’Brien, D Dempsey (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilmallock: G O’Mahony (1-1, 1-0 pen), K O’Donnell (2 frees, one 65), B O’Sullivan (0-3 each), E Ryan (0-2, one 65), J Mulcahy, G Mulcahy, P O’Brien (0-1 each); K Breen (1-0, Na Piarsaigh own goal).
NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; N Buckley, K Breen, M Casey; C King, D Breen, J O’Brien (c); S Dowling, W O’Donoghue; K Kennedy, A Breen, D Dempsey; K Ryan, K Downes, P Gleeson.
Subs: A Dempsey for Gleeson (30), D Sheppard for Kennedy (52), D Quigley for Sheppard (60+2).
KILMALLOCK: B Hennessy; L Hurley, M O’Loughlin, J Meade; L Walsh, G O’Mahony, K O’Mahony; R Egan, P O’Brien (c); K O’Donnell, E Ryan, B O’Sullivan; G Mulcahy, K Kenneally, J Mulcahy.
Subs: A Costello for J Mulcahy (51)
Referee: S Hourigan (St Mary’s/Sean Finn’s).