Stack hails Piarsaigh progress

LIMERICK’S Na Piarsaigh GAA club is bucking a national trend.

At a time when gaelic games are struggling in urban areas, this pocket of the Treaty City is developing hurling and gaelic football in an area where rugby traditionally held sway.

On Sunday, having finally made the senior breakthrough after years of across-the-board underage success, they contest the Munster Club SHC final in Semple Stadium against Clare champions Crusheen.

Coaching the team is a Clare legend, Seán Stack and the Sixmilebridge man is well placed to give an overview of the development work done far from the bright lights and the marquee names.

“They’ve done a super job in making GAA so fashionable. What they experienced in the past was a huge dropout rate after U16 to soccer and rugby but now, because the setup is so good, they’re holding onto more of those players.

“There isn’t a big base of primary schools feeding into the club, like you had in the big Cork city clubs in the seventies, but Na Piarsaigh themselves are doing phenomenal work at underage and contested every county final this year. They lost the U21 final (to Kilmallock), which was probably seen as the banker, but they won the minor again, the U16, U14, U12. That’s a huge thing for a city club, to have that kind of success. And it’s on the north side of Limerick city, which makes it even more pronounced, in the shadow of Thomond Park, surrounded by three renowned rugby clubs, with St. Munchin’s out the road as well. It’s just a privilege to be part of what they’re doing.”

There is one school that has had a major impact on the success of the current bunch of senior players – Árd Scoil Rís.

“Two Harty Cup titles in the last few years, two All-Ireland colleges finals, that brought the lads on a ton,” agrees Stack.

“It’s the occasions, really; it’s very little to do with coaching, you have to experience those occasions as a player, to win some, to lose some, to know what it’s like. Lads can grow up overnight, and I think that happened for a lot of them this year. We have a very young team, more than half of them still U21 — Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling, Pat Gleeson, James O’Brien, Alan Dempsey, Kieran Kennedy, Adrian Breen were all on the Limerick U21 panel this year, and the turning point for them came in the Munster U21 final.

“That hour-and-a-half in the Gaelic Grounds against Cork was one of the classic games of the year, they learned so much from it – how to deal with a big occasion, to play so well when no-one expected it, and to pull a win out of it in extra-time.”

That experience all came to the fore again in Na Piarsaigh’s semi-final win over hot favourites Ballygunner in Waterford. Seven points behind in the 41st minute, inspired by a 2-3 scoring burst from teenage star Dowling Na Piarsaigh then took over and romped home by six points.

“I thought the standard in Waterford was as high as I’ve seen in club hurling for a long time.

“But playing away from home, especially for a fledgling club like ours, was a huge benefit. Going away is a celebration almost of what you’ve achieved, it’s like a tour for the supporters. Those are special occasions, and the players rose to it.”

“We face a different challenge now. We have the novelty of travelling away out of the way, we have a more serious team against us. Crusheen have a system developed and it’s difficult to break down.

“They’re dropping half-forwards, midfielders back and it’s very hard to counter that, even with a seasoned team. It’s a major ask for our kids.”

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