Trailing by nine points at the change of ends (1-3 to 1-12), the Bridge couldn’t match the intensity and conviction of the Limerick champions who, with a strong wind to their backs, wrestled control.
Central to the revival in this quarter-final clash was Kevin Downes at full-forward. Man-of-the-match in the county final, his ball-winning ability is almost impossible to curtail. Within four minutes of the restart he had fired 1-1 and had another shot stopped by Derek Fahy.
His name was all over their third goal too. A clearance from sweeper Mike Casey found Downes and his lay-off to rising talent Peter Casey was perfect. His unstoppable shot was brilliantly executed.
Thereafter, a rampant Na Piarsaigh outhit Sixmilebridge six points to one, setting up a November 8 semi-final date with Thurles Sarsfields in the Gaelic Grounds.
“My own sister and her family live here in the Bridge,” said Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill. “And they wouldn’t talk to me for two weeks so we knew there was something brewing. It showed in the first-half, it was all Sixmilebridge, but there was absolutely no panic whatsoever inside in our dressing-room at half-time.
“This is three matches now collectively we have won by four points (county semi and final). That is a sure sign of a strong championship team. In our first foray into Munster Club hurling in Walsh Park against Ballygunner we were 11 points down and Loughmore in Thurles we were eight or nine points down and came back. We mentioned that today.”
There was plenty motivation for Sixmilebridge who suffered an 18-point defeat to this opposition two years ago. Captain Caimin Morey won the toss and took wind advantage. Much to the delight of their big support in the 2,107 crowd they landed early points from Brian Corry and Niall Gilligan while Alex Morey tested Podge Kennedy in goals.
But when Adrian Breen flicked a goal for Na Piarsiagh after David Dempsey’s shot was saved, they were hauled back. Undeterred, they went on to enjoy their best period as centre-forward Gilligan, Corry and Alex Morey found the target. A goal from Cathal Malone – the build-up from Shane Golden – moved them 1-6 to 1-0 clear by the 20th minute.
Sixmilebridge continued to apply the pressure and by half-time were nine points ahead. With plenty of supply, Gilligan, Alex Morey, Conor Deasy, Corry, Golden and Malone raised white flags. However, they lost Corry to a leg injury. The casualty list got worse when goalscorer Malone had to retire later.
Once Downes and co got going in the second-half the Bridge defence found them hard to contain. As well as the explosive start that yielded the two green flags, they added points from Shane Dowling and Breen. At the three-quarter juncture they were a mere point adrift, 3-7 to 1-14 – the Bridge’s two scores Gilligan frees.
Gilligan added another point on 46 minutes but that was to be their final score. A monster of a free from centre-back Ronan Lynch levelled with eight minutes remaining. Breen and Dowling (65) then put them two clear and Gilligan had to go for goal from a stoppage time free. Dramatically, the sliotar hit the post before going out for a 65. Caimin Morey dropped it short, however time ran out.
Sixmilebridge boss John O’Meara praised his side’s effort.
“We would be awful proud of our lads considering where we were two years ago. Giving away the goal so early after half-time was a setback. But, they were that bit slicker than us. We put in the performance but we just didn’t get the win.”
S Dowling (0-5, three frees, one 65m), A Breen (1-2), K Downes (1-1), P Casey (1-0), R Lynch (free), D Dempsey and K Ryan (0-1 each).
N Gilligan (0-7, five frees), C Malone (1-1), B Corry (0-3), A Morey (0-2), C Deasy and S Golden (0-2 each).
P Kennedy; M Casey, C King (Capt), K Breen; M Foley, R Lynch, K Kennedy; A Dempsey, W O’Donoghue; P Casey, K Downes, A Breen; S Dowling, D Dempsey, K Ryan.
P Gleeson for K Ryan (58).
D Fahy; B Fitzpatrick, A Quilligan, S Morey; N Purcell, C Morey (Capt), P Fitzpatrick; J Shanahan, C Deasy; C Malone, N Gilligan, B Carey; B Corry, S Golden, A Morey.
A Mulready for B Corry (21 inj), D Morey for A Morey, P Sheehan for C Deasy (both 47), K Lynch for C Malone (51 inj), T Keogh for N Purcell (56).
Cathal McAllister (Cork).