O’Neill: Gunners system hard to break down

The scramble for national honours, a second All-Ireland title, will begin again after Christmas but suffice to say for now that Na Piarsaigh’s status as one of the finest Munster club hurling teams of all time is well and truly secured.

It wasn’t just that yesterday’s win continued their record of never having lost a game inside the provincial boundary. It wasn’t even the fact that this latest deposit into the club’s trophy cabinet was the fourth Munster title inside seven short but wonderful years. No, it was the manner of it as much as anything else.

Trailing by a point at the interval, the Limerick side’s fluency was missing and they were being beaten to a succession of 50-50 balls by a Ballygunner side that seemed hell bent on ending a dispiriting run of defeats on Munster’s grandest stage.

“We were worried because we hadn’t played, said manager Shane O’Neill. “We hadn’t played well at all. But at the same time we were only a point down. We found their style of play and the structure that they bring difficult because we haven’t come across that element of it.

“They’re extremely well drilled in what they do. They’re very defensive initially and they try to catch you on the break then in the middle third. Some of the clubs in Limerick are trying to do it now, but they’ve been doing it for a number of years.

“We found that difficult to break down and maybe we were thinking about it too much,” he suggested. “In the second-half we went back to what we hadn’t been doing in the first-half as we said we would do.”

An eight-point win was beyond their wildest dreams, and O’Neill had no hesitation in admitting that the margin flattered them, but it is a victory that separates them from the likes of Blackrock on five, Sixmilebridge and Newtownshandrum on three titles and alongside St Finbarr’s on four.

Who now would bet against them adding a fifth, or more?

“The only other club we’re behind now is Blackrock, who are one of the greatest teams ever to play be it at county or club level,” said O’Neill. “For our guys to be only one behind them and to win as much as we’ve won since 2011 just shows how ambitious these guys are.”

Everything about the manner in which this game was won was suggestive of a team that has grown comfortable, but far from complacent, in its own skin in that there was never any panic when the game initially refused to bend to their will.

There was little or no sign of frustration. Even the half-time team talk was devoid of rancour or desperation according to the manager. They knew they hadn’t brought the physicality required up to then. That was rectified on the restart.

Kevin Downes summed it up best. This may have been a game won with their second-half performance, but that second-half performance was forged long before the sides re-emerged from the Kinnane Stand tunnel.

The end of November approaching. The thermometer spiralling downwards as the sun falls. The ground underneath heavy and treacherous to notions of fancy. When Na Piarsaigh needed answers they found them in abundance.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Downes. “It’s only after the game now but it feels like the sweetest one yet. Definitely in Munster anyway. It was a serious battle and we knew it would be coming up here. At half-time we were disappointed.

“We felt we had played within ourselves but, fair play to Ballygunner, they were responsible for a lot of it. Even at the start of the second-half they thundered into it and we just had to dig in.

“We’ve been around the block a few times now and we just dug the heels in and it was a fantastic second-half performance. There is no point saying otherwise. We really dug it out and that’s why it is really one to be proud of. It’s really sweet.”


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