Immortality for Na Piarsaigh as Cushendall rue big-day flop

Na Piarsaigh 2-25 Cushendall 2-14

Na Piarsaigh players celebrate beating Ruairí Óg in yesterday's AIB All-Ireland SHC Club Championship final in Croke Park. Picture: Stephen McCarthy

Never mind the quality, feel the result. Na Piarsaigh made history yesterday in Croke Park as they became the first Limerick club to win the All-Ireland senior hurling club title, overturning years of Shannonside misery in Dublin 3 to bring silverware to the Treaty City.

That the game was a blow-out, with the result a given long before the final whistle, wasn’t their fault. Na Piarsaigh overwhelmed Cushendall of Antrim, striking a goal in the first minute to settle themselves and put doubt into their opponents, and spent much of the hour nursing a double-digit lead.

The poverty of the proceedings will mean little to them, given the immortality it bestowed.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Na Piarsaigh forward Shane Dowling.

“Ye know and I know at times I’m not shy of words but for once, I’m kind of stuck.

“To be the first team makes it extra special. For my own reasons, I’ve always wanted to win this one, for various different reasons. I would like to consider myself a thorough club man. Often, when you play with the county team, you find yourself adrift from the club set-up.

“I live beside the place, I grew up there, I’m going to finish there. I know numerous people down there, I try to give as much as I can back.

“Because Na Piarsaigh isn’t a parish, it can be quite difficult to get that community spirit but over the last number of weeks, everyone has rallied and to be able to pat everyone on the back for all the hard work that’s done is just absolutely special.”

With respect to Dowling, for neutrals, ‘unbelievable’ was the last word you would use to describe the game. After Adrian Breen’s first-minute goal the Limerick men dominated.

Ronan Lynch, Alan Dempsey, and David Breen were unstoppable around the middle and Dowling, Kevin Downes, and Peter Casey kept the scoreboard ticking over. In every line of the field, the men in sky blue jerseys were quicker to the ball and tidier in possession.

Only Neil McManus and Shane McNaughton were flying the flag for an overrun Cushendall in the first half, but it was still 1-10 to 0-3 on 25 minutes when Downes killed the ball and finished coolly for Na Piarsaigh’s second.

At the break, the gap was 12 and it was really only a matter of how much Na Piarsaigh would win by, though the Limerick men’s manager begged to disagree afterwards.

“All we were looking for was a performance in the second half,” said Shane O’Neill.

“Cushendall are known to be a second-half team. We got a few points but then they got a goal and a few points which brought them back in the game. If they had got a few more scores at that stage... but Alan Dempsey got a point that settled us back down.

“We weren’t talking about closing it out. If you do that, it puts you on the back foot.”

As O’Neill suggested, Cushendall improved on the resumption. Neil McManus hit two frees before flicking home a goal from a Shane McNaughton free, but Na Piarsaigh were never threatened. The final quarter was a long one for Cushendall. Sub Karl McKeegan goaled from another long delivery with two minutes left, but the gap was still 11 points at the finish.

The Northerners’ manager was honest in his assessment.

“All their big players did shine,” said John McKillop. “Not saying our players didn’t, but their big players did stand up. Like, we matched them there in the second half, I think we outscored them by a point.

“If we got the start they got, things might have been better.... But what can you do?

“I don’t know if it was nerves or what at the start. But it took us 20 minutes to get going and you can’t afford that. They are a good side, you can’t take it away from them.”

That they are. Na Piarsaigh learned their lessons from previous forays into the All-Ireland series, most notably the defeat to Loughgiel, which Dowling and O’Neill both cited yesterday.

Neither player nor manager explored the significance of the victory for Limerick’s inter-county fortunes in much detail, but it’s a timely endorsement of the standard of club hurling on Shannonside - and a welcome boost for county manager TJ Ryan as the league winds down in preparation for the championship.

Scorers for Na Piarsaigh:

S. Dowling (0-7, 0-5 frees), A. Breen (1-4); K. Downes (1-2); A. Dempsey (0-4); P. Casey (0-3); D. Breen (0-2); R. Lynch, W. O’Donoghue, P. Gleeson (65) (0-1 each).

Scorers for Cushendall:

N. McManus (1-7, 0-7 frees); S. McNaughton (0-4); K. McKeegan (1-0); E. Campbell, A. Delargy, C. Carson (0-1 each).

NA PIARSAIGH:

P. Kennedy, M. Casey, K. Breen, K. Kennedy, M. Foley, R. Lynch, C. King ( c), A. Dempsey, W. O’Donoghue, S. Dowling, K. Breen, A. Breen, K. Downes, D. Dempsey, P. Casey.

Subs:

K. Ryan for D. Breen (54); P. Gleeson for O’Donoghue (56)

CUSHENDALL:

E. Gillan, R. McCambridge, M. Burke,E. Gillan, R. McCambridge, M. Burke, A. Graffin ( c), D. Kearney, E. Campbell, S. Delargy, S. McNaughton, A. Delargy, C. Carson, N. McManus, S. McAfee, P. McGill, D. McNaughton, C. McNaughton.

Subs:

C. Boylan for McManus (blood, 21-3); P. Burke for S. Delargy (34); K. McKeegan for D. McNaughton (37); A. McNaughton for C. McNaughton (43); E. McKillop for Graffin (54); E. Laverty for McGill (58 )

Referee:

D. Kirwan (Cork).

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