Delight for ‘Sparrow’ as Kilmallock defy odds

Kilmallock 1-15 Na Piarsaigh 0-14

With 10 minutes to go that familiar refrain struck up and you knew that Kilmallock were home.

“Come on you boys in green,” their ecstatic fans bellowed in the 2,910 strong crowd at the Gaelic Grounds.

They’d just witnessed a pivotal moment in the game as Na Piarsaigh sub Kevin Ryan trudged to the touchline, sent off for a pull across Eoin Ryan that left referee Jason Mullins with no other option but to brandish a red card.

That evened up the numbers on the pitch, after Liam Walsh was sent off shortly before half-time for a swipe at Kevin Downes, after the Na Piarsaigh captain had committed the original offence.

But even a man down for the best part of 24 minutes, Kilmallock never looked in any danger of losing this county final.

And when Ryan picked himself up, dusted himself down and slotted over a nerveless free after the challenge from his namesake, Kilmallock were 1-14 to 0-10 clear and within sight of victory.

For Kilmallock, this was a first Limerick SHC title win since 2012, but their third in five seasons.

Na Piarsaigh, winners in 2011 and 2013, were money on with the bookies but Kilmallock, 5/2 outsiders, were full value for the win.

Their manager, the former Clare great Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin, has a nice habit of winning Limerick senior titles. The Clarecastle man was in charge of the Adare teams that claimed three-in-a-row from 2007-09 and will now impress upon his Kilmallock charges the importance of making an impact in Munster.

On November 9, they welcome Cork champions Sarsfields to Kilmallock, with a place in the provincial decider on offer.

“I’ve a knack of probably getting involved with good teams, more than me,” O’Loughlin said modestly.

“But I’m absolutely thrilled for the lads there today. Nobody gave us much of a chance but I thought that if we were there until 8 o’clock, we still would have beaten them.

“We fought tooth and nail and with Liam Walsh being sent off, our backs were really to the wall but they manfully stood toe to toe with them.”

O’Loughlin had no complaints with the red card for Walsh, which will rule the wing-back out of the Sarsfields game.

He said: “Kevin Downes fouled Liam blatantly — it was a yellow card and Liam retaliated. Unfortunately if you do that, you’re going to get sent off so it was a red card. He’s a huge loss to us.”

And yet Kilmallock made light of that dismissal. At half-time, they were 1-9 to 0-5 clear, with man of the match Kevin O’Donnell contributing three points.

Captain Graeme Mulcahy had three points too and the goal, scored by Ryan, was a brilliantly improvised finish, one handed in as the third minute.

The contribution of goalkeeper Barry Hennessy, with a couple of crucial saves, shouldn’t be underestimated either. And in the half-forward line, Gavin O’Mahony worked tirelessly from start to finish, contributing three points from play.

It was workrate that did it for Kilmallock as they held firm into the teeth of a second half breeze.

Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill conceded: “The better team won — they showed a greater desire. I thought they were excellent and worked really hard from the word go. They set out their stall early and stuck to it.”

Kilmallock registered nine first half wides but still managed to atone for a 12-point first round defeat against Na Piarsaigh back in April, and that agonising one-point semi-final loss last year.

Game-changer

Kilmallock held the lead to the end after Eoin Ryan improvised brilliantly to whip home a one-handed strike in the third minute. Surrounded by a posse of defenders, Ryan somehow got his shot away.

Talk of the town

The bookies had Kilmallock at 5/2 before throw-in but the underdogs made a mockery of those odds with a display of hunger and savage intensity. Star-studded Na Piarsaigh had no answers.

Did that just happen?

Referee Jason Mullins ended up on the turf not once but twice during the game. His second half slip drew guffaws from the Mackey Stand before David Breen, desperately attempting to haul Na Piarsaigh back into the game, barrelled into the man in black in the closing stages.

Best on show

Kilmallock had heroes all over but none stood taller than wing-back Kevin O’Donnell, who banged over three wind-assisted points in the first half.

Sideline superior

Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin is the man with the Midas touch when it comes to Limerick club hurling. Manager of the Adare three in-a-row teams of 2007-09, he found himself back in the winner’s enclosure again yesterday.

The man in black

Jason Mullins enjoyed a solid outing, despite a couple of unfortunate tumbles. Was decisive when he had to be and neither Liam Walsh nor Kevin Ryan could argue with their red cards.

What’s next?

Kilmallock turn their attentions to the Munster club hurling championship and a semi-final with Cork champions Sarsfields on November 9. Na Piarsaigh look to come again in 2015.

Scorers for Kilmallock: E Ryan 1-4 (0-4f), G Mulcahy 0-4, K O’Donnell & G O’Mahony 0-3 each, R Egan 0-1.

Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: S Dowling 0-4 (2f), R Lynch (1 sl, 1 65), K Downes & A Breen 0-2 each, D Breen, A Dempsey, D Dempsey & W O’Donoghue 0-1 each.

KILMALLOCK: B Hennessy; L Hurley, M O’Loughlin, A Costello; L Walsh, P O’Loughlin, K O’Donnell; B O’Sullivan, J Mulcahy; P O’Brien, G O’Mahony, R Egan; G Mulcahy, K Kennelly, E Ryan.

Sub: R Hanley for Kennelly (half-time).

NA PIARSAIGH: P Kennedy; M Casey, K Breen, K Kennedy; C King, D Breen, R Lynch; P Gleeson, A Dempsey; J O’Brien, K Downes, A Breen; D Dempsey, S Dowling, W O’Donoghue.

Subs: K Ryan for O’Brien (19), P Casey for Gleeson (45), M Foley for A Dempsey (55).

Referee: J Mullins (Saint Kieran’s).



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