Na Piarsaigh soaring for success with their feet firmly planted on the ground

Aa the present takes care of itself, Na Piarsaigh are busy planning for the future.

Any day now they’ll get word on their application for a sports capital grant.

The money they’ve put in for, if they are successful, will go towards the installation of floodlights.

You’d think the most successful hurling club in Munster this decade would already be sorted in this department. Anything but.

Indeed, preparation for a fourth Munster final appearance in seven seasons was by no means exclusive to their home field as Shane O’Neill’s team trained at lit up venues such as the Gaelic Grounds, UL and neighbouring St Patrick’s.

At the moment, the club, based on the north side of Limerick city, is working off one sand-based pitch. They’re a dual club, but more pertinently, they’re a successful club and so the pitch is in constant demand from one end of the year to the next.

They took to addressing this issue a few years ago and early in 2018, they’ll cut the ribbon on two new pitches at their Caherdavin base, one grass and one sand-based. The hope is the new pitches will be used in preparation for an All-Ireland club semi-final.

On the field, too, they’re a busy lot in readying themselves for the years ahead. No one would have batted an eyelid if Na Piarsaigh sat back and enjoyed what has been a glorious decade for the club. Founded in 1968, the club was without a senior title until 2011. They’ve added three more since, as well as three Munster and an All-Ireland.

Every Saturday morning from 10 to 11am, the under sixes, sevens, eights, nines and tens congregate for an hour of training.

Educating the Na Piarsaigh hurlers of tomorrow are members of the senior panel, along with several other parents and volunteers.

Risteard O’Flaherty is in his third year as club chairman. Prior to that, he served three years as secretary. It was only when he assumed this position that he realised the efforts being put in to ensure the conveyor belt never close to dries up.

“I always felt everybody was very committed to whatever panel of players they were attached to, but I was taken aback by the passion each management had for their team. They did everything they can for their own individual team.

“Everyone is doing their bit and eventually, the whole thing blends together. If it is U6s or whatever, the sense of responsibility that each management takes for their own team, I have huge respect and admiration for it.”

His philosophy, and that of others in the club, is that the U10 and 12s are every bit as important as the players who’ll chase a fourth Munster title for the club tomorrow in Thurles.

Whenever the day comes that a David Breen or Cathal King steps away, they know the importance of having able replacements ready to fill their boots.

“I have seen other clubs to win a senior club All-Ireland and they no longer have a senior team. In seven years’ time, it will be your existing U12s who you want breaking through. You have to keep your eye on the ball with regard to underage. If we want to be competitive in seven years’ time, we must keep working with the underage. On and off the pitch, we want to improve any way we can.”

It was the same six years ago when they made the breakthrough at senior level. That team comprised of players who had won a county U12 championship in 2003, an U14 Féile in 2005, as well as the all-conquering U21 teams that grew from there.

From the 2011 Munster final winning team, just five players started the recent fixture against Blackrock. The players to emerge and, indeed, establish themselves in recent times arrived onto the senior scene with two, three and four county U21 medals to their name, with the club achieving a five-in-a-row at this age-group between 2012 and 2016. These were bookended by minor silverware in 2011 and ’16.

Conor Shiels, Tom Millea and Diarmuid Madigan oversaw all five U21 wins, while Dr Dave Boylan, Tomás Downes and John McKeogh made up last year’s minor management ticket. Also in 2016, the club’s second adult team, under the watch of Mike Brougham, annexed the county junior championship, further proof of their ability to harness the talent coming up through the ranks.

Of the 38-man Limerick senior panel named this week, 10 were from the home of the county champions. From the county’s All-Ireland U21 winning side, the two half-backs, corner-forward and first sub in (Tommy Grimes, Ronan Lynch, Peter Casey and Conor Boylan) were all Na Piarsaigh.

“We had been knocking at the door prior to 2011. We had been winning underage titles for a long time, but there is a big transition from winning U21 to winning senior. You see it with Limerick. You have to be patient. It does take time. There was great relief to win in 2011. Winning in 2011 raised the bar. Everyone knew what the expectation was and is.

“Now, we have a blend of established and emerging players. It is great to see two or three players coming through every year. Underage success guarantees that.” O’Flaherty concluded: “If you work hard enough at something, you make your own luck. I never really appreciated the work going in until I was secretary. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm. When you have that drive from U6 up, you’d like to think you’ll get the rewards for it.”

Na Piarsaigh certainly are.


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