This was a convincing return to fortunes for Na Piarsaigh whose fourth senior county title never really looked in doubt in the Gaelic Grounds.
Seven points up at the break, the Caherdavin men went 10 points up early in the second half and only took their foot off Kilmallock’s necks when the deed was done.
Adrian Breen was excellent throughout, helping himself to half a dozen points from play, while corner-back Niall Buckley was the pick of the Na Piarsaigh defence in a game that was far less competitive than the scoreboard at the end suggested.
That was because of two late consolation goals for Jake and Graham Mulcahy but Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill wasn’t too perturbed by that as he saw his side give a commanding display to claim a fourth crown in seven years.
“A goal always comes at the right time but the Kilmallock goals came at the wrong time. They brought it back to five near the end but the end game was up at that stage. A lot of the boys were out on their feet because they had worked so hard. It’s always the same at the end of a final when a team is chasing and structure goes and you’ve fellas all over the place. It’s human nature.”
David Dempsey’s superb 47th-minute goal following a Buckley clearance put Na Piarsaigh back into a 10-point lead after Kilmallock attempted to give the scoreboard some respectability. After that came Peter Casey’s first point of the game and Breen’s final two points in a decider where he was a terror for the Kilmallock rearguard.
Na Piarsaigh could even afford to lose a countyman in Shane Dowling who had to retire injured with a knee problem in the 43rd minute having attempted to shrug it off. Dowling had fired over five first-half frees in a period where Kilmallock were holding their own but for their wide count (six), in particular, their inaccuracy from frees.
Na Piarsaigh rushed into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes but Kilmallock clawed their way back into the game and were just a point behind in the 14th minute.
In a period where their only wide came in the 14th minute, Na Piarsaigh hardly looked rattled and dominated the final 10 minutes of the half, outscoring their opponents nine points to one.
An ugly row broke out in the 22nd minute and referee Donnacha O’Callaghan was quite lenient in issuing only one card, a yellow to Na Piarsaigh captain Cathal King, when each team could have lost a player.
For the following minutes, matters threatened to boil over but it was Na Piarsaigh who puffed their chests out best with three Dowling frees followed by points from Kevin Downes and David Dempsey.
Kevin O’Donnell and Adrian Breen swapped scores and Na Piarsaigh’s advantage read 0-14 to 0-7 at the interval and extended to 10 when Ronan Lynch, Downes and Breen again, after a slick pick-up, sent over points. It was that rally which pleased their manager most.
“I was delighted with how we started and then at the start of the second half when Kilmallock are usually very strong we targeted it to make sure we were the ones setting the tone and I think we did that as well so it kind of finished it then,” said O’Neill.
Buckley was clearing his lines almost at will, inspiring his colleagues as much as disheartening a Kilmallock attack that looked out of ideas long before the final whistle. Points from Michael Houlihan (free), Gavin O’Mahony and then Graeme Mulcahy and Paudie O’Brien either side of an Alan Dempsey score from distance did give Kilmallock some momentum not enough as the other Dempsey then swooped for his goal.
Mulcahy may have been unfortunate not to win a penalty after a questionable challenge by Buckley in the 41st minute but it was difficult to see Kilmallock getting enough of a foothold to challenge such a physically impressive outfit as Na Piarsaigh.
“It has been ourselves and Kilmallock since 2010,” remarked O’Neill. “I know the ‘Well (Patrickswell) won last year when we didn’t get through our group but we have had a fierce rivalry and the same with the U21s. You just don’t know with Kilmallock – that was the fifth time we played in my tenure and it’s three-two (to Na Piarsaigh). Anything can happen on any particular day.
“The ‘Well won it last year and couldn’t get back to the final. It’s really difficult with four or five really good teams in Limerick at any particular time. County finals are there to be respected and I think the boys showed that today.
“I thought against Doon, I don’t think we got the credit for it. In the first 20 minutes, I thought we pulverised them. I thought it was the best hurling we played in two years. We allowed them back into the game with silly frees and that kind of thing. It was something we dealt with and the boys were very disciplined today.”
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh:
A. Breen (0-6); S. Dowling (0-5, frees); D. Dempsey (1-2); K. Downes (0-3); R. Lynch (0-2, 1 free); D. Breen, A. Dempsey, P. Casey, T. Grimes (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilmallock:
G. Mulcahy (1-4); J. Mulcahy (1-1); K. O’Donnell (0-3); E. Ryan (0-2, frees); R. Hanley, G. O’Mahony, P. O’Brien, M. Houlihan (free) (0-1 each).
P. Kennedy; J. Boylan, M. Casey, N. Buckley; T. Grimes, C. King (c), A. Dempsey; S. Dowling, W. O’Donoghue; A. Breen, D. Breen, D. Dempsey; R. Lynch, K. Downes, P. Casey.
Subs for Na Piarsaigh:
G. Brown for S. Dowling (inj 43); C. Boylan for D. Breen (49); M. Foley for W. O’Donoghue (59); J. O’Brien for J. Boylan (60+2).
B. Hennessy; L. Hurley (c), M. O’Loughlin, A. Costelloe; D. Joy, Philip O’Loughlin, Paddy O’Loughlin; J. Mulcahy, K. O’Donnell; P. O’Brien, G. O’Mahony, M. Houlihan; G. Mulcahy, R. Hanley, E. Ryan.
Subs for Kilmallock:
O. O’Reilly for E. Ryan (h-t); D. Woulfe for M. Houlihan (53).
D. O’Callaghan (Feohanagh-Castlemahon).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved