A Na Piarsaigh goal within seconds of the start of each half signalled the beginning of the end for the outclassed Clare champions. Limerick county star Kevin Downes scored the first, sent clear with a brilliant low centre by county teammate Shane Dowling.
That score helped Na Piarsaigh to a 1-5 to 0-1 lead after 20 minutes and the Limerick champions were still well in control at the break (1-8 to 0-5), Dowling (four), Adrian Breen (two), David Dempsey and Pat Gleeson with the points, free-taker Niall Gilligan (three), Shane Golden and Kevin Lynch in reply at the other end.
The second goal though was the real killer, a contender for goal-of-the-year. From the throw-in midfielder Alan Dempsey combined well with Gleeson and Dowling, whose centre was deflected superbly by Kevin Ryan past the helpless and hapless Derek Fahy in the Sixmilebridge goal.
They have fought back bravely and successfully in many a battle in the last couple of months, have the Bridge, but against a team of Na Piarsaigh’s quality, there was no way back.
“The backs were superb,” acknowledged Na Piarsaigh manager Sean Stack: “The two Breens (Kieran at full, David at centre), what anchors to have in your defence and then James O’Brien at wing-back, a great captain.”
One defender in particular, however, caught the eye — Cathal King. Veteran Niall Gilligan has been the most dangerous attacker Sixmilebridge have had in their march through Clare, was again to the fore in last week’s Munster semi-final win over Cork kingpins Midleton. A former Bridge star himself, still resident in the parish, no-one was more aware of that threat than Sean Stack but no-one was more aware either of the perfect candidate for the man-marking role.
“Cathal is a phenomenal athlete. I just don’t understand — how can you overlook him for the Limerick team?
“In all fairness to John Allen, what was he looking at last year? Cathal is a nightmare for any player; he’s such a good defender when the forward is in possession, has such pace and skill, but he’s so good then himself on the ball, a good attacking defender, always looking to bring the ball out of first-phase possession. I’ve had Cathal since he was a first-year in secondary school and he was always someone you’d go to war with.”
With their defence on top, Kieran and David Breen and James O’Brien lording it in the air, Michael Casey and Niall Buckley tidying up everything on the sod (held up reasonably well for the entire game), Padraig Kennedy safe as houses in goals, Sixmilebridge were simply crushed in this half.
In midfield Alan Dempsey and William O’Donoghue dominated, though Kevin Lynch did have his moments. Up front, the dangerous Na Piarsaigh sextet continued to score.
Páidí Fitzpatrick did a fine job on Downes after that early concession, while Aidan Quilligan limited the influence of Shane Dowling, Caimin Morey also showing well, but there was no holding Na Piarsaigh now. Adrian Breen got a fine individual goal, sub Kieran Kennedy got another, while Kevin Ryan (three) and Alan Dempsey (two) and Dowling kept the pointsflowing.
Elation for Na Piarsaigh then, their best performance of the season and what a time to produce it. Still, says Sean, there’s more in them, will have to be if they’re to get past All-Ireland specialists Portumna in the semi-final.
“I don’t know if I’d rate it (the performance) that highly; it was good but it wasn’t fabulous — the Bridge had weaknesses today.” And with that he sounded a warning; not to Portumna, but to his own.
“Whether you’re a city or a country team you’re nothing without work-rate. You’ll go nowhere without it, you can’t be carrying passengers, fellas who are not as intense as you. They’re all great lads but there’s even better to come, some brilliant young players lining up behind these lads again.”
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: K Ryan 1-3; A Breen 1-2; S Dowling 0-5 (four frees); K Downes 1-0; D Sheppard 1-0; A Dempsey 0-2; D Dempsey, P Gleeson 0-1 each.
Scorers for Sixmilebridge: N Gilligan 0-3 (three frees); S Golden 0-2; C Morey, J Shanahan (free), K Lynch, 0-1 each.
NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; K Breen, C King, M Casey; J O’Brien (c), D Breen, N Buckley; A Dempsey, W O’Donoghue; P Gleeson, K Downes, D Dempsey; K Ryan, S Dowling, A Breen.
Subs: K Kennedy for Buckley (43); J Madden for D Dempsey (49); D Sheppard for A Breen (56); B Hartnett for O’Brien (59); D Quigley for Downes (59).
SIXMILEBRIDGE: D Fahy; B Carey, A Quilligan (c), N Purcell; C Morey, P Fitzpatrick, J Fennessy; K Lynch, J Shanahan; R Shanahan, S Golden, S Morey; P Sheehan, N Gilligan, A Mulready.
Subs: C Deasy for Mulready (41); S O’Sullivan for Sheehan (49).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).
There were two, first minute of first half, first minute of the second half, two goals for Na Piarsaigh; first Kevin Downes, then Kevin Ryan.
How did Ireland lose against New Zealand? Given the way this game was going in Ennis, the events at the Aviva Stadium became the major topic of discussion, and would remain so long after the final whistle.
Only once before, and that was back in 1975, has there been a bigger margin of victory, Blackrock bettering Mount Sion 8-12 to 3-8 (19 points, against 18 here).
So many contenders in blue — pick a Breen, ANY Breen, or Alan Dempsey, or omnipresent Kevin Ryan. I’m giving it to Cathal King for the defensive job on Niall Gilligan.
Colm Lyons (Cork) had a very good game.
All-Ireland semi-final for Na Piarsaigh against Galway champions and All-Ireland specialists Portumna. Season ends for gallant Sixmilebridge.