Shane Dowling has been answering questions on all manner of matters, from Na Piarsaigh’s founding fathers to Sunday’s Munster Club hurling final against Sixmilebridge, when someone asks if he was pleased to see Clare win the All-Ireland.
Cue a very long pause.
An odd query, on the face of it, but not so much, with his back story.
Dowling, like many a hurler from Limerick and Clare, is one of those for whom the county boundaries weren’t always clearly defined. In his case, that was back in 1999 when he was a Doora-Barefield mascot on the day they won the All-Ireland.
The link was Ger Hoey, a neighbour from Clare domiciled in Limerick, and a six-year old Dowling was sufficiently taken by a team boasting the talent of men such as Ollie Baker and Jamesie O’Connor to declare ownership of a Clare flag for a time.
“Everyone seems to pick up on that,” he says with a smile. “It was a good starting point, wasn’t it, when Clare were going so well? As a young lad, I could nearly say I followed Clare, given the influence that was brought upon me.”
Allegiances were reined in closer to home as time went on.
Dowling was a member of the Limerick team that won a first senior provincial title in 17 years this summer before Clare did for them in an All-Ireland semi-final. So, fair to say he probably wasn’t elated when the Banner was raised last September.
“You have to respect them,” he said finally, when asked his feelings on that one. “Genuinely, you do. We beat them in 2012 so they have obviously progressed a lot. You would be foolish otherwise. It’s hard to do, let’s be honest. We haven’t done it since 1973, they hadn’t done it since 1997. Hard work pays off and Clare are the prime example.”
Na Piarsaigh are another.
It is 45 years since the club was founded as a response to the mushrooming housing developments popping up in places such as Greystones, Highfield and Caherdavin but they have been treading more elevated ground this last three years.
County champions for the first time in 2011, they added the Munster title that year and now find themselves back for a second tilt at that Munster crown and in the knowledge success is simmering away at underage levels too.
Times are good.
Press him on the reasons why and he offers the fact that, as a city club, Na Piarsaigh have been spared the waves of emigration that have decimated more rural outfits elsewhere in the county and further afield but it is far more than that.
The senior team is still young, most of them have those medals and experiences from two years back on which to draw and there is the sense that they have yet to hit full throttle despite their march this deep into the season.
“With the conditions that have been brought against us, it’s hard to put in a good performance. It’s just about digging out a result, showing a bit of character. I think we’ve done that so far. I don’t know what you want to call the (quarter-final against (Loughmore-Castleiney).
“Whatever we done, we seemed to dig that out. The last day against Passage, we were four points up, nothing really happening. All of a sudden, we were a couple points down. We dug that out. Next Sunday will be no different.”
Maybe so. The winter turf will again make it harder for everyone but this is Limerick and Clare — again — and, though Dowling’s affections are not in doubt, the same can hardly be said for his manager Sean Stack.
Captain of Sixmilebridge when they claimed the Munster title in 1984, Stack was still a player with them when he plotted their downfall as Toomevara manager in the 1994 decider and now finds himself tasked with barring their path once again. “Yeah, that was a brilliant story wasn’t it?” Dowling says of ‘94. “It’s not often you’d see the manager still playing and training another team. Whatever about now, that must have been 10 times as bad. He’s some bit used to it anyway.”
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