Na Piarsaigh overcame Kilmallock yesterday at the Gaelic Grounds to make another Limerick SHC final, but the former All-Ireland club champions had to fight all the way, having lost centre-back Ronan Lynch to a red card early in the second half.
“We’re 100% happy to be in the final,” said Na Piarsaigh manager Michael Ryan afterwards. “At various times in that match that didn’t look likely, but semi-finals are always the worst possible stage at which to fall. Once you get through you have a chance, and you’ve bought some time to work on things.
“We knew what we were facing, we know what this means and you could see what it means to all the clubs here today.”
Kilmallock started against the breeze but found themselves on the back foot against a slick Na Piarsaigh forward unit, trailing 0-6 to 0-2 on 10 minutes — the city side’s freetaker William Henn had his eye in early on.
The men in green and white settled, however. Henn’s opposite number, Micheal Houlihan, pointed two frees to make it 0-6 to 0-4 by the 14th minute, and two fine long-range points, from Kevin O’Donnell and Jake Mulcahy, tied the game up.
Kilmallock were beginning to take a grip around the centre of the field: O’Donnell’s lead point came after some calm interplay in the middle. Houlihan pointed another free and O’Donnell added a third from play to make it seven on the bounce for his side before Will O’Donoghue pointed for Na Piarsaigh — 0-9 to 0-7 on 22 minutes.
As expected of such an experienced side, Na Piarsaigh didn’t panic. Henn (free) made it a one-point game and Adrian Breen levelled, but veteran Gavin O’Mahony restored Kilmallock’s lead and Houlihan chipped in with another free.
As half-time beckoned, Jake Mulcahy bombed over a long-range free but there was still time for Na Piarsaigh to come looking for a goal, with Will O’Donoghue turned back by a wall of defenders: 0-12 to 0-9 at the break.
Breen pointed for Na Piarsaigh on the resumption and Ronan Lynch put over a free from his own half. On 34 minutes we had a melee which was settled with a throw-in, only for Lynch to get a red card for a wild pull at that throw-in; Houlihan pointed the resulting free.
Sub Alan Dempsey and Thomas Grimes levelled the game only for Robbie Hanley to push Kilmallock one ahead. Kilmallock kept their spare man, Paddy O’Loughlin, behind their half-backs as Na Piarsaigh tried to find their way down the wings. Paudie O’Brien kept Kilmallock in front until Henn (free) levelled matters on 45 minutes.
Neither side could gain the initiative: Houlihan (65) and Henn (free) swapped points again. Breen almost broke the deadlock with a goal but Barry Hennessy saved well and Henn pointed the resulting 65 before adding a point from play. When ‘keeper Podge Kennedy pointed a long-range free it was 0-19 to 0-16 on 50 minutes.
When Robbie Hanley got a second yellow for Kilmallock the sides were evened up and Na Piarsaigh flexed their muscles. David Dempsey and Henn added two more points and suddenly there was daylight between them.
Despite Kilmallock’s efforts they couldn’t close that gap, with the city men defending well and closing the game out. Na Piarsaigh will hope to at least be able to prepare for the final in their own grounds, said Michael Ryan afterwards. Their pitches were flooded earlier this month.
“To be fair, we’ve been out training in Rathkeale and in St Patrick’s, they’ve been great — we’ve been able to survive and it hasn’t really impeded us at all.
“We’re very grateful for the generosity shown to us, and there were several other offers of support as well — of pitches and so on. As an outsider coming in it’s great for me to see that level of support.”
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: W. Henn (0-13, 9 frees, 2 65s); A. Breen (0-3); K. Downes, D. Dempsey, A. Dempsey, T. Grimes, W. O’Donoghue, R. Lynch (free), P. Kennedy (free)(0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilmallock: M. Houlihan (0-9, 8 frees, 1 65); K. O’Donnell (0-3); R. Hanley, J. Mulcahy (1 free)(0-2 each).; G. O’Mahony, P. O’Brien (0-1 each).
P. Kennedy, C. King, M. Casey, N. Buckley, M. Foley, R. Lynch, T. Grimes, C. Houihan, W. O’Donoghue (c), D. Dempsey, K. Downes, C. Boylan, A. Breen, W. Henn, P. Gleeson.
Subs: A. Dempsey for Gleeson (HT); K. Ryan for D. Dempsey (60).
B. Hennessy, P. O’Loughlin, A. Costello, D. Joy, M. O’Loughlin, P. O’Loughlin, G. O’Mahony, K. O’Donnell, G. Mulcahy, P. O’Brien (c), J. Mulcahy, R. Hanley, O. O’Reilly, R. Egan, M. Houlihan.
Referee: M. Sexton (Bruree).