Cold and spilling rain, a greasy sod and the darkness of mid-November were defied by both sides – and 1,350 hardy spectators – who produced a thriller eventually won by a slightly better balanced Na Piarsaigh side.
“Look, it’s November,” said winning manager Sean Stack afterwards. “Rain all day, handles of hurleys getting wet, these are the days that make men of young lads. It could have gone either way, couldn’t it?”
Passage, weakened by the absence of Waterford senior star Noel Connors, who is travelling in Asia, needed a good start, and they got it. Their county final star, Thomas Connors, had swapped points with Na Piarsaigh’s Kevin Downes when the visitors struck it lucky: a long Owen Connors delivery was spilled by Piarsaigh goalkeeper Padraic Kennedy over the goal-line, and Passage were 1-1 to 0-1 up on three minutes.
The home side settled, however. Driven on by the influential David Breen at centre-back, they reeled off six points in the next 15 minutes, with only one Passage response, an Eoin Kelly point. Kevin Downes was the Limerick side’s trump card in this period, hitting two points and causing Passage repeated problems with his strong running.
The Waterford men hung in there, though they needed two good saves from goalkeeper Eddie Lynch to stay in contention. The score was 0-7 to 1-2 on 19 minutes when Passage rallied with two Owen Connors’ placed balls. Shane Dowling responded before Passage goaled again on 22 minutes. Former Waterford star Eoin Kelly was adjudged by referee Colm Lyons to have been fouled near goal; Kelly blasted home the penalty to make it 2-4 to 0-8.
Again, Na Piarsaigh responded with points – Downes surged through and shot over while Pat Gleeson tied the scores up from distance before Downes was fouled on his way through once again: Dowling – whose free-taking was some way off his own high standards – drove the free over to make it 0-11 to 2-4 at the interval.
Na Piarsaigh resumed with Dowling at full-forward, and he almost got through for a goal as soon as the game restarted, but Passage survived. Downes stretched their lead to two points, 0-12 to 2-4, before Passage won another penalty on 35 minutes when Rory Walsh was grounded on the way through.
However, goalkeeper Kennedy turned Kelly’s shot around the post for a 65 which Thomas Connors dropped short, and Na Piarsaigh lifted the siege without conceding a score.
The scoring slowed down generally at this stage, with Pat Gleeson’s two long-distance points the only other times the scoreboard operator was called into action.
At the end of the third quarter it was 0-15 to2-4, with Kieran Kennedy notching a Na Piarsaigh point just after being denied by Eddie Lynch’s terrific diving save.
Passage then threw the game back in the melting pot with a Killian Fitzgerald point and a close-range goal from John Whitty which was conjured up out of nothing.
When Passage sub Joe McClean pointed with his first touch it was level, 3-6 to 0-15 with ten minutes left, and anybody’s game.
Dowling nudged Na Piarsaigh ahead; Owen Connors levelled before pointing a 65 to edge Passage in front. Dowling responded with a free to tie it up once more.
On 55 minutes Adrian Breen snapped over another point, 0-18 to 3-8, only for Killian Fitzgerald to reel over a superb equaliser.
Passage were unhappy with some of the decisions of referee Lyons at this stage, a point acknowledged by Na Piarsaigh boss Stack afterwards, but there was still time for a winner.
Up stepped Alan Dempsey with a super effort from distance before Downes, fittingly, set the seal on victory with a magnificent point from the sideline.
“Passage were probably aggrieved with four or five consecutive decisions the referee made,” Stack acknowledged. “They were vocal about it, and maybe it just swung the match a bit, but we scored 20 points at the same time.”
For his part, Passage manager Peter Queally was focusing on the positives: “If you go into the dressing room we have signs up, three things we covered – three subjects. We have Passage up on a sign, hunger up on a sign and pride up on a sign. We’re happy with how we did under those headings.
“Obviously the main objective is to get a result at the end of the day, we didn’t get that but we came very close and the lads can hold their heads up and be proud of the effort they put in.”
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: K. Downes 0-6; S. Dowling 0-5 (0-3 fs); A. Breen and P. Gleeson 0-3 each; K. Kennedy, A. Dempsey and W. O’Donoghue 0-1 each.
Scorers for Passage: O. Connors 1-4 (0-2 65s, 0-1 f); E. Kelly 1-1 (1-0 pen); J. Whitty 1-0; K. Fitzgerald 0-2; T. Connors and J. McClean 0-1.
Subs for Na Piarsaigh: B. Hartnett for J. O’Brien and J. Madden for K. Kennedy, both 52; A. Hennessy for P. Gleeson, 59.
Sub for Passage: J. McClean for R. Walsh, 47.
Referee: C. Lyons (Cork).
NA PIARSAIGH: P. Kennedy, N. Buckley, C. King, M. Casey, M. Dempsey, D. Breen, J. O’Brien (c), S.Dowling, W. O’Donoghue, K. Kennedy, K. Downes, D. Dempsey, K. Ryan, P. Gleeson, A. Breen.
PASSAGE: E. Lynch, J. Roche, M. Wyse, J. Upton, P. Walsh, S. Mason, M. Baldwin, K. Fitzgerald, J. Whitty, O. Connors, C. Carey (jc), T. Connors, R. Walsh, E. Kelly (jc), S. Hogan.
The second penalty Passage won was saved, and they got nothing from the resulting 65; that proved vital for Na Piarsaigh.
The three goals Na Piarsaigh conceded: a worry, said manager Sean Stack.
Passage support outnumbered the home support.
Kevin Downes rampaged through the game, winning balls, winning frees and ending with six points.
Colm Lyons won’t be popular in Passage with some of his decisions late in the game.
Na Piarsaigh await the winners of the Sixmilebridge-Midleton tie. Passage await the 2014 championship.