Dowling was substituted 43 minutes into Na Piarsaigh’s county final win over Kilmallock on October 15, with subsequent scans showing cartilage damage in his right knee, which has all but ended his 2017 season.
The Limerick hurler clipped five frees on the afternoon of their county final win, throwing over seven points during their semi-final victory over Doon. Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill confirmed Dowling’s injury woes, adding that the 24-year old is a “massive loss” to their Munster club championship aspirations.
“Shane is the mainstay of our team and has always performed on the biggest days for us. It is only when someone like him is not there do you realise how much he’s worth to us,” O’Neill remarked.
“He is our free-taker, penalty-taker, the work-rate he has brought this year in the middle of the field has been fantastic. That is all gone now.
“He has been such a talisman for us for so long that we don’t know how we’ll cope without him. He is rarely injured and always plays. Since I’ve played with him back in 2011, he has missed no more than two matches through injury. Sunday will be a new one for us.”
Gordon Brown or Limerick U21 sub Conor Boylan should get the nod to fill the void left by Dowling and such are the number of players on the Na Piarsaigh team who have worn the green of Limerick at various age-groups, O’Neill’s side, more than most, appear well capable of absorbing the loss of such a talented figure.
“We’ve some younger lads who are going well. Some of them haven’t been exposed to Munster club championship fare before so hopefully, they will perform.”
Indeed, when asked for his main positive from their fourth county championship-winning campaign, O’Neill points to the strength-in-depth of the squad.
“We used 23 players during the county championship. The 23 all performed, and very well at that. So we do have various options. Lads were injured early on, other lads came in and did so well that they ended up keeping their positions and keeping out guys who would have been expected to be playing.
“Jerome Boylan at corner-back is a new face on the team this year. He was Limerick minor centre-back this year. Niall Buckley has come back into the team, he played very well in the final. Tommy Grimes played with us last year, but the year before that he was used as a sub every now and then.
"He has solidified his position on the team this year. Gordon Brown has done very well in all the games where he has come on. Conor Boylan, too, has done excellently when he has come on.”
Despite winning the Munster title on each occasion they emerged as Limerick representative (2011, ‘13 and ‘15), Na Piarsaigh have never come up against Cork opposition.
And while the majority of O’Neill’s panel have at least one Munster club medal, the manager is stressing the importance of adding to that collection this month, such is the increasingly competitive nature of the Limerick championship.
“In Limerick, there are four or five teams at the top and there is absolutely nothing between them. There is a reason why no club has managed back-to-back Limerick titles since 2009. It is getting harder and harder to win it each year.”
O’Neill assumed the bainisteoir’s bib for the 2014 season, guiding the Caherdavin club to county and provincial glory in 2015 and All-Ireland club success on St Patrick’s Day in 2016.
Their defence of these titles ran aground far earlier than expected, losses to Kilmallock, Ballybrown and Doon condemning Na Piarsaigh to a group-stage exit last summer. It was the short nature of this campaign which compelled O’Neill to hang around for a fourth season.
“After the highs of winning the All-Ireland, there was the disappointment of not getting out of our group. The players felt they had more to offer. Obviously, they had. They showed that in the county final. Whether we’ve more to offer in the Munster club, we won’t know until Sunday.”