A couple of momentary mental lapses couldn’t stop reigning Limerick and Munster champions Na Piarsaigh reaching a seventh Limerick senior final in 10 seasons.
Kilmallock immediately cancelled out two first half Na Piarsaigh goals with three-pointers of their own but the Caherdavin men were a more assured outfit in the second half as captain William O’Donoghue starred at centre-back.
Thanks to the dynamism of Graeme Mulcahy and Oisín O’Reilly, Na Piarsaigh were never made to feel too comfortable but Kilmallock couldn’t get the ball into the inside forwards’ hands enough to inflict serious damage on the champions.
Na Piarsaigh were 2-8 to 2-6 up at the interval and thankful for Kilmallock’s nine first-half wides but that gap had disappeared five minutes into the second half as the Kilmallock midfielders and Kevin O’Donnell found their range. In the 37th minute, O’Donnell landed a fourth point from distance after a successful David Dempsey effort and the men in green seemed to be in stubborn mood.
Na Piarsaigh, though, came back with four of their own, Shane Dowling and Peter Casey each claiming a brace of scores, and it was that cushion that they more or less kept intact until the final whistle.
As Na Piarsaigh struggled not for the first time with a long ball into the edge of the square, Pádraig Kennedy did have to be nimble to block a Paudie O’Brien goal-bound touch but the only other danger presented to them was the work of Mulcahy and O’Reilly, which was too rare.
Kevin Downes’ score in the 52nd minute meant all of Na Piarsaigh’s starting six forwards contributed from play and their only substitute Conor Houlihan made an impact, scoring with his first play prior to Downes’ point and winning a free for Dowling to convert in the 56th minute.
Unlike the curtain-raiser, this one was slow to warm up but when it did there was electricity. The opening score didn’t come until the seventh minute, a Mulcahy point. The next was a Na Piarsaigh goal, Casey doing well to bring down a high ball and lay it off to Dowling who in turn teed up Adrian Breen to beat Barry Hennessy.
Na Piarsaigh’s sluggish opening was forgotten with that score but no sooner were they settled that Kilmallock were celebrating a goal of their own. Less than a minute after Breen bulged the Ennis end net, Mulcahy was wheeling away having breached Na Piarsaigh’s goal-line, the All-Star nominee carefully placing his ball above Kennedy following a sizzling O’Reilly run to create his platform.
Kilmallock built on that goal with three consecutive points, the second of them a O’Mahony 65 after Na Piarsaigh defender Kieran Kennedy dove bravely to deny O’Brien a certain goal. The Balbec were making life torrid for Na Piarsaigh’s defenders who eventually caught on that their short-passing was inviting on their markers far too much.
The scoreline read 1-5 to 1-1 in the 16th minute and what followed over the next six minutes was Na Piarsaigh’s first purple patch.
Midfielder Alan Dempsey sent over back-to-back scores and both Casey and Breen got in on the act to level up the game.
Breen then pounced for his second goal, David Dempsey fielding well and while it looked like he had been fouled he was able to make some yards before hand-passing to Breen whose shot deflected into the bottom right corner as he viewed it.
Na Piarsaigh had amassed 1-4 without reply but again they were guilty of switching off. An O’Mahony delivery from a long-range free was dropped by O’Donoghue and the ball fell into the path of Oisín O’Reilly and his groundstroke was too hot to deny.
Na Piarsaigh did outscore Kilmallock by three points to one to ensure a two-point half-time lead, two of them Dowling frees, but those lapses of concentration provide room for improvement for the 2017-18 All-Ireland runners-up as they prepare for Doon in 13 days’ time.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: A. Breen (2-1); S. Dowling (0-7, 5 frees), P. Casey, A. Dempsey (0-3 each); C. Boylan, D. Dempsey, G. Brown, C. Houlihan, K. Downes (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilmallock: G. Mulcahy (1-2); O. O’Reilly (1-1); K. O’Donnell (0-4); G. O’Mahony (0-3, 65s); P. O’Brien (0-2, frees); P. O’Reilly, R. Hanley, J. Mulcahy (0-1 each).
NA PIARSAIGH: P. Kennedy; J. Boylan, M. Casey, K. Kennedy; R. Lynch, W. O’Donoghue (c), C. King; A. Dempsey, G. Brown; D. Dempsey, S. Dowling, C. Boylan; P. Casey, A. Breen, K. Downes.
Sub for Na Piarsaigh: C. Houlihan for A. Dempsey (49).
KILMALLOCK: B. Hennessy; Philip O’Loughlin, D. Joy, A. Costello; Paddy O’Loughlin, G. O’Mahony, C. O’Connor; J. Mulcahy, R. Hanley; K. O’Donnell, M. Houlihan, P. O’Reilly; P. O’Brien (c), G. Mulcahy, O. O’Reilly.
Subs for Kilmallock: R. Egan for M. Houlihan (h-t); D. Woulfe for P. O’Reilly (52); M. O’Loughlin for C. O’Connor (57).
Referee: J. Mullins (St Kierans).