“They were the better side for long periods. We did well to come back and draw it in regular time but we’ve been doing that all year, finishing well. There’s no doubt about the character of our lads but Loughgiel were a superior force, you have to take your hat off to them.
“It makes it a bit easier to take when you know you’re well beaten and we were. Loughgiel were super.”
If you wanted your match report in just a couple of paragraphs that’s it, right there; if you want a few more details, it goes like this: for the first quarter of an hour, this was a match, Na Piarsaigh leading 0-5 to 0-4. For the remainder of the first half, however, and into the fourth minute of injury-time, it was all Loughgiel, on-fire full-forward Liam Watson pointing the way with a haul of eight as the Antrim champions established a six-point lead (0-11 to 0-5).
And then came a chink of light for Na Piarsaigh. Giant centre-forward David Breen, having just had a blistering shot brilliantly saved by Loughgiel keeper Damien Quinn, burst through once again (after a perfect pass from Kieran Kennedy) and this time he gave Quinn no chance from close range. Now only three points behind as they headed for the dressing-room (0-11 to 1-5), Na Piarsaigh had hope.
But for the first 20 minutes after the restart it was the Shamrocks who again looked supreme with Watson still doing the bulk of their scoring as they again established a six-point lead (0-17 to 1-8).
For the remaining 10 minutes of normal time, however, and yet another 3½ minutes of added time, it was the brave men from the Treaty city resurrecting themselves. David Breen and teenage free-taker Shane Dowling brought them close, substitute Rob Sheehan sent a ground shot to the net, and then, in the 63rd minute, against the odds, a fine strike from wide right by full-forward Kevin Downes tied it all up (0-18 to 2-12).
In extra-time, however, there was only one team to talk about. While they had more than one player, (front to back they had outstanding performers — the keeper and all six backs, Joey Scullion, Eddie McCloskey, Declan Laverty up front), Watson stood out again and dominated the scoring.
Afterwards, as the massive Loughgiel travelling bands milled around Parnell Park, savouring the win and the prospect of heading for Croke Park in a few weeks, Liam was again the focal point. “The players said we were going to stand tall today, give it everything from the word go, go the whole way, for ourselves,” he said. “We’ve had a tough six or seven years but we’re all getting our rewards now. Na Piarsaigh are a good team, very physical, but the gym-work we did over Christmas that no-one ever saw or heard of was unreal. We were in the gym at ten on the (Christmas) morning when everyone else was getting ready for their turkey. We’re getting the rewards here now.”
As for his own scoring heroics, those 16 points? “I don’t know, you look at the hassling and the harrying our half-back line did, our wing-forwards, the corner-forwards working their butts off — it’s not just me, you have to give credit to everyone else. I’m a free-taker and a good number of those points were frees. I have to give credit to the rest of the players, the way they performed for the full 75 or 80 minutes was unbelievable — that was an unbelievable display by Martin Scullion. We’ll go and party for a few days now, it will be hot and heavy, but we’re back training on Saturday.”
Scorers for Loughgiel: L Watson 0-16 (0-9f, 0-1 65); J Scullion 0-3; E McCloskey 0-3; B McCarry 0-2; Declan Laverty 0-2; M McFadden 0-1.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 0-6 (0-4f 0-2 65s); D Breen 1-2; R Sheehan 1-0; C King, P Gleeson, S O’Neill, K Downes, A Breen, 0-1 each.
LOUGHGIEL SHAMROCKS: D Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, R McCloskey; James Campbell, M Scullion, Johnny Campbell (c); B McAuley, M McFadden; E McCloskey, D Laverty, J Scullion; B McCarry, S Casey, L Watson.
Subs: D McCloskey (Laverty 48); D Laverty (McFadden 60); T McCloskey (Gillan 62). Extra-time: P Gillan (T McCloskey 60); M McFadden (D McCloskey 60); Damian Laverty (McFadden 60); S Dobbin (McAuley 77).
NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; D Lynch, K Breen, K Bermingham (c); B Hartnett, J O’Brien, A Dempsey; C King, D Breen; S Dowling, P Gleeson, S O’Neill; K Kennedy, K Downes, K Ryan.
Subs: A Breen (K Breen 29); J Madden (King 58); R Sheehan (O’Neill 61). Extra-time: S O’Neill (Sheehan 60).
Referee: A Stapleton (Laois).