Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 3-17 Loughmore-Castleiney (Tipperary) 2-18
Some will say this was a fiery affair.
Nasty weather and three red cards paints a picture to those who missed it. And while on balance, Na Piarsaigh deserved it at a stormy Semple Stadium yesterday, but Loughmore-Castleiney deserve great credit for their battling qualities in the face of adversity.
Before a ball was thrown in the high-achieving Tipperary dual club had to deal with the fact that defenders Joseph Hennessy and Aidan McGrath were both ruled out, injury victims during the football semi-final win over Clonmel Commercials last week, a serious blow to a small rural club where numbers are at a premium.
Within four minutes of the start it got worse, full-back Derek Bourke receiving his marching orders after an off-the-ball incident that left Na Piarsaigh’s Kevin Ryan requiring medical attention.
Then in the 34th minute, now playing into the stiff wind but having extended their six-point half-time lead by one, they were hit with another body blow when yet another defender — this time Willie Eviston — got a straight red card from referee Cathal McAllister.
And still, despite all that adversity, as the game headed into injury-time they were clinging onto a 2-17 to 2-16 lead. That they were in that position was down to a re-jigged defence, anchored by John Meagher at full-back and the evergreen David Kennedy in the centre. It owed much also to the tireless efforts of Liam McGrath and Cian Hennessy up front, who ran themselves ragged against a stronger Na Piarsaigh.
It owed most of all, however, to the omnipresence of the magnificent Noel McGrath who was simply everywhere, drawing the praise of all, even of the Na Piarsaigh players themselves.
"Everyone in the country knows of the quality of Noel McGrath and certainly we knew it, coming up here," said Na Piarsaigh free-taker Shane Dowling.
"You try your best to mark him but a player of that class, all you can do is contain him. He was their go-to guy again today."
With five invaluable points, the last of his four from placed balls coming from his own 45m line, Shane played his part in this win but in common with most of his teammates, this was far from his best display for the sky-blues.
"We made very hard work of it. Just because we won and got out of jail, it doesn’t hide the fact that this was a poor performance.
"They looked like they wanted it more. Why that is I don’t know but that’s something that’s going to have to be addressed. We’re just grateful and lucky that we have another chance to show that we’re better than that."
The only period when Na Piarsaigh played to their potential was in the opening 21 minutes, at which stage they led by three (0-8 to 0-5), though playing into the teeth of the wind. Dowling had two of those points but five of the six starting forwards also got on the scoresheet, full-forward Kevin Ryan looking particularly sharp with a fine brace.
Then came the Loughmore-Castleiney revival and as in the county final win over Drom & Inch, the McGrath cousins Liam and Noel led the charge. A run of 1-6 without reply turned that deficit into a six-point half-time lead (1-11 to 0-8). Liam got the goal in the 27th minute when, picked out by Noel with a brilliant cross-field ball. Noel hit four points, three from play, but it was his general play that really caught the eye, popping up as an auxiliary defender, strong-running midfielder, powerful finisher.
Loughmore had a tonic second-half start, a 20m free on the right wing from Liam McGrath catching the Na Piarsaigh defence napping and allowing Cian Hennessy fire home from close range. The same player pointed a minute later, extending the lead to 10 points (2-12 to 0-8).
Kevin Downes got a goal back for Na Piarsaigh in the 34th minute but as he was scoring, Willie Eviston was taking out the supporting David Dempsey and received a straight red. By the 41st minute it looked like Loughmore would really pay the price, a second goal (Dempsey the finisher) helping Na Piarsaigh close the gap to two.
Loughmore just would not lie down though and two points from Noel McGrath, and another from Liam, re-established their dominance. Again Na Piarsaigh battled back, points from Dowling (two), sub Pat Gleeson and wing-back James O’Brien, bringing them back to within a point and setting up the grand finale.
And grand it was. Na Piarsaigh were now down to 14, full-back Kieran Breen walking for an off-the-ball hit on Liam McGrath, but were still applying massive pressure. In the 60th minute Kevin Ryan drew a fantastic save from Shane Nolan in the Loughmore goal and on hand to belt home the rebound was the redoubtable Dempsey.
For the first time since the 25th minute Na Piarsaigh were in the lead.
Noel McGrath again brought Loughmore to within a point but with that long-range last-minute free, Dowling hit the insurance point.
"We’ll move on, we can’t turn back the clock," said heartbroken Loughmore manager Declan Laffan.
"It’s gone. It’s devastating but it’s gone. We have an opportunity to create a bit of history next weekend [county football final] and we’ll give it everything again. It’s been a long year, highs and lows. Today’s a real low."
Yes, in terms of a result; but a real high in terms of the effort.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: D Dempsey (2-1), K Downes (1-2), S Dowling (0-5, 4fs), K Ryan, P Gleeson (0-2 each), D Breen, J O’Brien, W O’Donoghue, K Kennedy, A Breen (0-1 each).
Scorers for Loughmore-Castleiney: N McGrath (0-9, 4fs, 1 s/l), L McGrath (1-3, 3fs), C Hennessy (1-1), C McGrath (0-2), T King, J McGrath, E Sweeney (0-1 each).
NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; K Breen, N Buckley, M Casey; C King, D Breen, J O’Brien (c); S Dowling, A Dempsey; W O’Donoghue, K Downes, D Dempsey; K Kennedy, K Ryan, A Breen.
Subs: P Gleeson for K Kennedy (30), D Quigley for A Breen (57), B Hartnett for Casey (60+3).
LOUGHMORE-CASTLEINEY: S Nolan; T Long, D Bourke, L Egan; W Eviston, J Meagher, T King; C McGrath, T McGrath; J McGrath, D Kennedy, L McGrath; E Sweeney, N McGrath, C Hennessy.
Subs: J Campion for Long (60), M Webster for C Hennessy (60).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).