The foundation for their win yesterday was centre-back David Breen
I give out a lot about officialdom but when the opportunity arises, I try to give credit also where it’s due. So it is that I take my hat off to the Munster Council for their decision to force the two teams to toss for the venue for this provincial senior hurling final yesterday. Two years ago both Na Piarsaigh and Crusheen had to travel twice to Thurles for the Munster final and replay, a ridiculous situation given where the fans were travelling from.
What we had yesterday was a reasonable crowd of just under 4,000 (though I thought there would be more) creating a good atmosphere in a smaller stadium.
Before I go to the game, there’s one team that must be kicking themselves this morning in Munster and given that they’re so good at the big-ball game they’ll likely inflict some damage on themselves — I’m talking of course about the Tipperary dual champions, Loughmore-Castleiney. If they had been playing hurling only this year there’s every chance they’d be the ones celebrating a second Munster senior hurling this week, and not Na Piarsaigh.
Think back a few weeks, think how close 13-man Loughmore came to beating Na Piarsaigh. Then look at where the Limerick champions have gone since. They’re going to take some stopping now.
The man with the biggest smile on his face after this should be Sean Stack. I know he’s a Bridgeman to the marrow but a few years ago he was denied the top job there, which was how he ended up with Na Piarsaigh.
How he has brought on that team since then. In 2011 he guided them to their first Limerick senior title followed by their first Munster crown. And now they have repeated both those achievements.
His influence on this team is obvious but I believe there’s another influence that’s been brought to bear on Na Piarsaigh this year and that is the presence of former Tipperary captain Tommy Dunne who was brought in by Stack. From my own experience against Na Piarsaigh in Limerick, as manager of Kilmallock, I’ve noticed a definite improvement in their hurling, in the speed of their play, in their control, in their positional sense.
From the moment Na Piarsaigh got their first goal, inside the first minute when Kevin Downes was put through by Shane Dowling, the writing was on the wall.
The foundation though was laid much further back the field and the main man here was centre-back David Breen who had an outstanding game. I know you can point too to the man-marking job done by Cathal King on Niall Gilligan, something which Midleton failed to do last week, but Breen, Niall Buckley and Na Piarsaigh captain James O’Brien were the cornerstones for this success.
The two midfielders William O’Donoghue and Alan Dempsey were dominant, Pat Dempsey also prominent in this area for Na Piarsaigh, while in the attack they had a great spread of scorers.
So often Na Piarsaigh have depended on Shane Dowling (two years ago) and Kevin Downes (this year) to do the bulk of their scoring but yesterday that wasn’t the case and the two corner-forwards Kevin Ryan and Adrian Breen were outstanding.
It was all made very easy for them by how poor Sixmilebridge were, however. Maybe all those games caught up with them, all those weeks of high-intensity knockout matches, because definitely Na Piarsaigh looked fresher. Páidí Fitzpatrick, Aidan Quilligan and Kevin Lynch all looked good but this was a tired-looking Sixmilebridge team. Shane Golden, Jamie Shanahan, Seadhna Morey, Niall Gilligan, who have all played so well this year, were all well held. They have plenty of players coming though, plenty of reserve, and I have no doubt they’ll be back. Did they expect to be playing in a Munster final this year? I very much doubt it — in fact I’d say they might even have surprised themselves in winning Clare. This year was a great learning curve for them, this loss will now be a good test of their resolve and their resources.
As for Na Piarsaigh, great credit is due to everyone involved in this win — the players, the management, the club itself. A second Munster title in three years, unbeaten in the province, there’s a cracking All-Ireland semi-final store against Portumna.