Limerick leader in waiting

FEW people are more aware of the qualities of burgeoning Na Piarsaigh and Limerick hurling star Shane Dowling than Niall Moran.

Moran coached Árd Scoil Rís to won two Harty Cup titles in a row with Dowling an integral member of that side.

“The first thing I’d say about Shane is that he’s stone cracked on hurling,” said Moran.

“His life revolves around it, you’d always see him with a hurley in his hand. With the school he was always the first guy onto the training pitch, he prided himself on that, and he was always looking to improve himself. The first time I came across him he was only 11, when he was sent off in an U12 final between Na Piarsaigh and my club Ahane.

“I went up to console him, he was devastated. But even back then he was a star — we had two lads detailed to mark him, he was that good, and proved it when he went on then to win the All-Ireland skills at U14.”

Dowling is now a strapping 18-year-old and a powerful figure in the air, and on the ground.

Moran continued: “Shane has a kind of a square build. People looked at him when he was growing up and when he was around 13 or 14 some thought he was a bit pudgy, and he was very conscious of that.

“But he has always wanted to be a hurler and even at that age was very conscious of doing all the right things, not just in training but in what he ate and drank. He was always properly hydrated, always looking for tips on diet and preparation and things like that. He was just totally dedicated.”

It isn’t just his physical attributes that mark him out, however, the size, the strength, the skills, the ball-striking, the free-taking; it’s the x factor, that which separates the very best from the rest.

“His greatest asset is his leadership — he’s a phenomenal natural leader. In a Dean Ryan final at the end of 2009 we played St Flannan’s in Clarecastle, and for Árd Scoil Rís at that time this was like going into the lion’s den, a case of David and Goliath in terms of honours won.

“Shane gave a little speech in the huddle at the side of the pitch before the game started, and what he said lifted the lads. He wasn’t disrespectful of Flannan’s, but he instilled self-belief into the lads, a fearlessness.

“I just thought that for a young lad of 16 to do something like that was a serious statement, but then the other quality he had was that he was always able to back it up.”

In the Munster club semi-final win over Ballygunner in Waterford, Na Piarsaigh tailed by seven points with less than 20 minutes remaining. 2-3 in five minutes from Dowling set the Limerick champions on their way. Again last Sunday, in the Munster club final against Crusheen, it was Dowling doing the bulk of the scoring, 1-7 from 1-11.

In the replay in Thurles tomorrow, Na Piarsaigh will again be looking to the youngster.

All those attributes then, no wonder people are talking about him as a star of the future, and in Limerick itself it’s as if he — along with former Árd Scoil Rís teammates Declan Hannon (Adare) and Kevin Downes (Na Piarsaigh) — is the Messiah, the saviour.

“All the way up along he’d have compared himself with Kevin and Declan. They’re both a year older than Shane but have both shot to prominence with Limerick seniors and U21s this year — Shane wouldn’t have been jealous but I have no doubt he was just itching to be up there with them. It’s no coincidence that now, at year’s end, he has announced himself to a wider audience.”

All that — is there no end to what this guy can achieve? Moran calls for a little calm. “I think we should all dampen down our expectations, not just of Shane but also of Kevin and Declan. Shane himself would be the first to accept that he still has a lot of growing to do, the first to admit also that there are still aspects of his game that he has to work on, and is working on. He’s seen a lot of bad days too, days when it didn’t work out for him; it’s never set him back, he always comes back stronger and better. But having been on that side of the fence myself nine or 10 years ago, you’d hope that people — in Limerick especially — would give them a chance, dampen down the expectations. These guys are only 18 or 19 and doing brilliantly. People should enjoy them for that, but you’d hope and pray that they’re allowed the time and space to develop naturally.”

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