AIB Munster Club SHC final
Yesterday, you see, was anything but vintage Na Piarsaigh.
Shane O’Neill’s charges managed just two points in the opening 19 minutes, that figure rising to six come the call for half-time. Of their first-half total, four arrived via open play, with the starting six forwards contributing a paltry three points between them.
Possession was fumbled, spilt, thrown away. Six wides during a truly awful first-half told of a malfunctioning forward unit.
The early stages of the second-half saw no improvement, Pauric Mahony, Peter Hogan and Billy O’Keeffe firing over three points in as many minutes to propel Ballygunner 1-7 to 0-6 clear. The latter of these scores stemmed from a William O’Donoghue handpass, intended for David Dempsey, which went straight into the paw of Wayne Hutchinson.
What the winners produced in the closing 25 minutes, when set against their opening 35-minute offering, was rather remarkable. During this period, they racked up 3-9, conceding just 1-3.
The eight-point winning margin sits nicely alongside the seven-point victory over the same opposition two years ago, the 18-point thumping of Sixmilebridge in 2013 and the seven-point triumph over Crusheen to deliver a maiden Munster crown in 2011.
Four Munster titles in seven years is fair going, a feat matched only by the Blackrock team of the seventies who won five in nine years. Na Piarsaigh now sit directly underneath them on the roll of honour and given the age profile of Shane O’Neill’s squad, it is more probable than possible that they’ll secure a fifth crown to move alongside the famed Cork club.
Yesterday was Na Piarsaigh’s 11th Munster fixture since first emerging from Limerick in October of 2011. They’ve still to lose a game in the province. It is a quite impressive unbeaten stretch and one which appeared under threat when Fergal Hartley’s charges opened up that four-point lead early in the second-half.
A Peter Casey point gave no indication of what was to come, but in the subsequent action, Kevin Downes tore through the centre of the opposition defence, offloaded to Adrian Breen and the former Limerick hurler beat Stephen O’Keeffe from close range. Level pegging.
Adrian Breen and Downes split the posts to move Na Piarsaigh 1-9 to 1-7 clear and although Peter Hogan temporarily stopped the bleeding with Ballygunner’s first score in 13 minutes, Conor Boylan, Adrian Breen and a second Ronan Lynch sideline cut established a four-point gap with five minutes remaining.
At the other end, Peter Hogan found himself with a chance of goal after Podge Kennedy dropped a Pauric Mahony free. Na Piarsaigh defenders threw themselves at the sliotar to prevent Hogan’s groundstroke crossing the white paint.
Mahony, as mentioned elsewhere on these pages, had a frustrating afternoon from the placed ball. We’d be slow to criticise the Waterford forward, though, given Ballygunner wouldn’t have been present in Thurles but for his quarter and semi-final contributions. That said, management should have moved him off the frees sooner than they did. Two minutes from time and four still between the sides, 1-13 to 1-9, Na Piarsaigh were hassled off possession on their own 20-metre line, Hogan snapped up possession and reduced proceedings to the minimum with a superb strike. Game back on, if only momentarily.
The response of the Limerick champions was to charge back up the Thurles sod, Adrian Breen scrambling home a second Na Piarsaigh goal after brother David had been unsuccessful first time around.
Ballygunner had four minutes of injury-time to rescue the situation but capitulated altogether as Barry Coughlan was sent off and David Breen walked in a third goal. No more than Thurles Sarsfields, it must be deeply frustrating for Ballygunner to have failed to land a provincial title during a period in which they won four consecutive county titles. They didn’t exactly set Thurles ablaze during the first period but should have better capitalised on a fumbling Na Piarsaigh.
Conor Power, benefiting from a Jerome Boylan slip, struck their opening goal 10 minutes in to leave them 1-2 to 0-2 in front. They’d add only two more points in the remainder of the half, one of those a Mahony free.
The Waterford champions led 1-4 to 0-6 at the break and despite a promising burst upon the resumption, it was a familiar feeling come the final whistle.
Four Munster final defeats for Ballygunner in the last 13 years, four wins in almost half that period for Na Piarsaigh.
A Breen (1-5); D Breen (2-0); R Lynch (0-2 sc, 0-1 ’65), P Casey (0-3 each); K Downes (0-2); T Grimes, C Boylan (0-1 each).
P Hogan (1-2); C Power (1-0); B O’Keeffe (0-4, 0-1 free); Pauric Mahony (0-1 free), D O’Sullivan (0-2 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; P Casey, K Downes, A Breen.
K Ryan for D Dempsey (43 mins, inj); G Brown for C Boylan (59).
S O’Keeffe; I Kenny, B Coughlan, E Hayden; W Hutchinson, Philip Mahony, S Walsh; H Barnes, S O’Sullivan; D O’Sullivan, Pauric Mahony, B O’Keeffe; P Hogan, JJ Hutchinson, C Power.
T O’Sullivan for Hutchinson (HT); B O’Sullivan for Walsh (54); C Sheahan for D O’Sullivan (63).
R McGann (Clare).