It’s been a rocky road to this year’s Munster SHC club final for Na Piarsaigh, a hell of a lot rockier than the fun trip they had two years ago after they had won their first Limerick senior title.
In fact, says captain colossus James O’Brien, it’s been rocky all year.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best yet, not in Munster nor even in our own county championship – 80% is about the best we’ve been. We all know there’s a lot more in us but no point in saying that if we don’t deliver.
“The Kilmallock match (county semi-final) was the biggest we’d had up to then and we didn’t play well. Afterwards we were saying we can play a lot better and we didn’t, we struggled against Adare in the county final; after that we said it again but we haven’t done so since then either, didn’t reach anywhere near our full potential against either Loughmore-Castleiney or Passage.
“If we play like that again on Sunday I don’t think we’re going to be too happy afterwards.”
A big change then from 2011, when all this was very new for James and Na Piarsaigh: “It’s very different. Two years ago everything was new once we got out of Limerick. It was a novelty. This year, to begin with, we found it a lot tougher to get out of Limerick, then we had two very tough games in Munster. The novelty has worn off, it’s almost expected at this stage that we’ll win a Limerick title and there were no huge celebrations when we did. We were back training two or three days later. Having said that, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to come back and win another county so in a way, the pressure is off us in Munster, we’re now playing for the enjoyment.
“Mind you, while we did manage to win the last two games I don’t think we enjoyed them very much!”
And that’s the critical point — through all those travails they’ve kept on winning.
One man in particular has been crucial to those wins, powerful attacker Kevin Downes: “He’s been massive for us in the last five or six games. I suppose it goes to disprove what a lot of people were saying about us, especially two years ago, that we were over-reliant on Shane Dowling for scores.
“That’s been a big plus, the way so many others have stepped up. Shane hasn’t been at his best but Kevin has stepped forward.”
It is difficult to credit but that same Shane – star of the show in 2011 as Na Piarsaigh created their own history in Limerick and in Munster – is still U21. He’s still playing well too but not to his own very high standards. No-one is more critical of his performances this year, however, than Shane himself.
“That’s true, he’s very level-headed. He knows better than anyone else when he has played well, when he hasn’t but either way he doesn’t let it get to him.
“He doesn’t get too up nor too down; he knows his own abilities, what he’s capable of, and he has very high standards for himself.
“But even in the games when he’s not playing to his best he’s still not shy about taking the long-range shot when it’s on, he’s still looking for responsibility. The final point of the Loughmore-Castleiney game was proof of that, a crazy score, from his own 45 metre line. That was the winner right there.”
They’ll need Shane to be firing tomorrow, and Kevin and James and everyone else in the light-blue shirt, because this isn’t just a very talented Sixmilebridge team in its own right, it’s also a club with a proud history in Munster.
This will be their ninth final appearance, best in the province in hurling, and they will be seeking to go second in the order of merit with their fourth title.
“At the start of the year they wouldn’t have been expected to get this far but having seen them a few times now, I’m not surprised. They’re a good hurling side but also a hard-working side, support each other well, very dogged.
“Several of their team are U21 which is a very similar situation to what we were in two years ago when we won our first county. We’re aware of their great tradition but we haven’t been beaten in Munster so we have a proud record of our own, and we’re trying to keep that going. It’s going to be another one of those battles, like the last few games.”
Munster Club final: in the know
For the record
* Sixmilebridge have won the Munster Club SHC title three times (1984, 1995, 2000)
* Na Piarsaigh are bidding for their second provincial success having won the championship in 2011 with a replay win over the Clare champions Crusheen.
Paths to the final
Munster quarter-final: Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 3-17 Loughmore-Castleiney (Tipperary) 2-18
Munster semi-final: Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 0-20 Passage (Waterford) 3-9
Munster semi-final: Sixmilebridge (Clare) 1-17 Midleton (Cork) 1-13
* From 2010 through 2013, the travelling team has won 10 of the 12 matches played in the Munster quarter and semi-finals. The victory for Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) over Passage (Waterford) in the semi-final this year and the win of Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary) over Sarsfields (Cork) at Semple Stadium in the 2012 semi-final are the only exceptions in the last four seasons.
* The Munster senior championship is very competitive with only one score separating the champions and runner-up in each final from 2004 through 2011. Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary) won the 2012 final versus De La Salle (Waterford) by five points.
* Na Piarsaigh’s first appearance in the Munster Club senior hurling championships saw them finish as winners following a replay victory over Crusheen (Clare) in 2011. They’ve had four wins and one draw.
* This will be the 22nd match for Sixmilebridge in the province. Their record is: Won 14, Lost 6, Drawn 1.
Roll of honour
Cork (17) – 1964, 1965, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1987, 2003, 2005, 2009
Tipperary (12) – 1966, 1969, 1970, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1993, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2012
Clare (9) – 1967, 1968, 1984, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Limerick (6) – 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994, 2011
Waterford (5) – 1981, 2001, 2002, 2008, 2010
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