Having first emerged from Limerick in the winter of 2011, yesterday represented their 10th Munster club championship game. And as was the case with eight of the previous nine (Crusheen took them to a replay in the 2011 decider), this provincial fixture ended with victory for Na Piarsaigh.
The 22-point winning margin also broke new ground for the Caherdavin club, surpassing the 18 points they had to spare over Sixmilebridge in the 2013 Munster final.
Indeed, when the half-time score came through from Walsh Park in Waterford, the Na Piarsaigh faithful were gearing up for a repeat of this fixture in a fortnight’s time.
Instead, it was Ballygunner who prevailed, meaning a retake of the 2015 final which Na Piarsaigh won by 2-18 to 2-11. November 19 will mark their fourth final appearance in seven years as they bid to move to second on the roll of honour, alongside St Finbarr’s, and one behind the Blackrock men who won five titles between 1971 and ’79.
That’s the kind of company they’re now keeping and not even the absence of talisman Shane Dowling could throw them off stride as they, in the words of Blackrock manager Fergal Ryan, hammered the Cork representatives.
“You will always miss Shane Dowling,” said Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill, “but Ronan Lynch stepped up fairly well from deal balls. We have a replacement, but maybe not a ready replacement as consistently good as Shane. Shane rarely misses at all.”
On an afternoon where it was near-impossible to pick holes in their performance, such was the speed at which they put the result to bed, the sole concern for management has to be that they weren’t in any way tested. As it was in the county final, they dictated proceedings from the off.
Below in Walsh Park, meanwhile, their Munster final opponents were again being asked every question in the book.
“This ended up being easier than expected,” O’Neill continued. “Ballygunner have had the route we had two years ago when we played Sixmilebridge away and then we had Thurles Sarsfields in the semi. That helped us with momentum. Ballygunner have played something like eight weeks in a row and now have a break so that will stand to them.
“I think they are a lot better than two years ago. It will be a real battle.”
Here, in front of a bare enough crowd of 1,326, we endured anything but a battle. Ronan Lynch had the home outfit off the mark inside 18 seconds. This was quickly followed by points from Peter Casey and Adrian Breen, the latter could easily have been a goal. Ominous.
David O’Farrell clipped Blackrock’s first of the afternoon, but their defence was already being stretched as Peter Casey, Adrian Breen, Conor Boylan, and David Breen dragged their opposite numbers all over the Rockies half.
At the other end, the defeated Cork finalists were having to work much harder for scores. There was half a goal chance for David Cashman but the move broke down at the crucial moment. These were the opportunities they absolutely needed to be taking.
Lynch (three frees), Adrian Breen, and William O’Donoghue moved their lead out to 0-8 to 0-3 by the quarter-hour mark. Thereafter, David Breen turned defence into attack when clearing out a ruck after a Blackrock player had been dispossessed. His namesake Adrian snapped up possession, flicked the sliotar into Peter Casey and the All-Ireland U21 winner delivered the opening goal.
John O’Sullivan pointed in a swift reply for the Rockies, but in the ensuing action, David Breen hopped the sliotar in front of ‘keeper Gavin Connolly for their second goal. Two green flags in under two minutes had the scoreboard reading 2-8 to 0-4 in favour of the favourites. It was impossible to see a road back for Ryan’s charges.
Ronan Lynch’s fourth free of the half and a pair from the lively Casey had the home outfit 2-11 to 0-6 to the good at half-time. Lynch had added two more placed ball efforts by the time Alan O’Callaghan opened Blackrock’s second-half account on 35 minutes. They wouldn’t score again for 17 minutes and managed only four second-half points. Indeed, Lynch’s free count alone matched Blackrock’s entire tally. His second from play, after staving off three green and gold shirts in front of the Mackey Stand, was the score of the day.
Their winning margin, sizeable and all as it was, would have been greater but for three second-half saves from Gavin Connolly to deny Adrian Breen and Casey, twice.
“It is difficult to pick yourself up after losing a big game and we weren’t able to do it after losing the county final,” Fergal Ryan remarked.
“Na Piarsaigh are a very accomplished side but we made it very hard on ourselves. I thought we were in a position where we had the appetite coming up here, but we didn’t muster up anything. We dropped balls, fumbled balls. There were a lot of basic errors and mentally, they looked spent out there. The harder we chased, the further it went away from us.
“We didn’t play. Na Piarsaigh absolutely played and hammered us.”
R Lynch (0-15, 0-10 frees, 0-2 65s, 0-1 sc); P Casey (1-3); D Breen (1-0); A Breen (0-3); K Ryan, N Buckley, W O’Donoghue, C Boylan, K Downes (0-1 each).
M O’Halloran (0-4, 0-4 frees); D Cashman, D O’Farrell, G O’Regan, A O’Callaghan, J O’Sullivan, L O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
P Kennedy; J Boylan, M Casey, N Buckley; A Dempsey, C King, T Grimes; R Lynch, W O’Donoghue; C Boylan, D Breen, D Dempsey; A Breen, K Downes, P Casey.
G Brown for D Dempsey (HT); K Ryan for Casey (43); M Foley for Grimes (48); J O’Brien for Buckley (55); K Kennedy for J Boylan (58).
G Connolly; J Cashman, D Stokes, G Norberg; A Murphy, N Cashman, D Meaney; S Murphy, D O’Farrell; J O’Sullivan, A O’Callaghan, G O’Regan; M O’Halloran, T Deasy, D Cashman.
A Hogan for D Cashman (HT); L O’Sullivan for J O’Sullivan (45); C O’Leary for Deasy (48, inj); E O’Farrell for A O’Callaghan, B Ahern for Norberg (both 58)
J Ryan (Tipperary).