A BITTERLY cold afternoon in Semple Stadium yesterday, biting wind and heavy showers; a disappointing afternoon also for the players and supporters of gallant Crusheen.
And yet it was a game to stir the blood and warm the heart of even the most cynical as Na Piarsaigh continue their Cinderella season — adding a first Munster Club SHC title to the ground-breaking Limerick crown won just a few weeks ago.
In front of another disappointing attendance (2,486, down 500 from last week), from the opening minutes it was obvious this was going to be a very different contest to the sporting but almost bloodless affair that was the drawn match. As was the case on Sunday last, both sets of players were totally committed, individually and as a group gave it everything with neither time nor space easily found.
But there was also some serious early belting in this one, and it was all from one side, three Na Piarsaigh players (Brian Hartnett, David Breen and Kevin Downes) yellow carded by referee Cathal McAllister within the opening three minutes for dangerous pulls.
It can’t be said this set the tone for the game — from there on it was again a very sporting encounter — but it did say something about which side was the more energised. It took a while for all that energy to emerge but when it did — well, let’s save that for later.
Despite all that early Na Piarsaigh bluster, Crusheen set the pace but three bad wides was all they had to show for their efforts. In contrast, with the first look at the posts Kevin Downes, the Na Piarsaigh full-forward, blasted a fine point over from the wide left for the early lead.
Late call-up Tony Meaney then replied for Crusheen, but points from Downes again and wing-forward Kevin Ryan hadNa Piarsaigh 0-3 to 0-1ahead in the 13th minute. With the wind not giving either side a major advantage Crusheen took charge, and a strong second-quarter (as was the case last week) had them a point in front at the break, 0-5 to 0-4 — youngcentre-forward Jamie Fitzgibbon with a fine brace.
Na Piarsaigh began the second half looking very strong and tied the game through the giant David Breen, but then missed three opportunities to surge ahead. Crusheen then came fighting back, two more points from Fitzgibbon (had a great tussle with Na Piarsaigh centre-back James O’Brien, who shaded the contest and took man of the match honours) along with two from free-taker Pat Vaughan, against one from Shane Dowling, putting the Claremen three clear (0-9 to 0-6) with only 14 minutes left.
The final quarter, however, was all Na Piarsaigh. Where Dowling, scoring hero of last week’s draw, had been quiet up to then, suddenly he began to make his presence felt. Just as significantly, Downes and David Breen also became even more prominent, as did corner forward Kevin Kennedy. Most significantly of all, substitute Adrian Breen, dropped after a poor performance last week, exploded into the game.
Out of nowhere the scores started to flow, and the current was all one-way. 1-6 Na Piarsaigh notched in the final quarter, no reply from Crusheen; 1-3 by Adrian Breen, the goal coming in the 58th minute after fine setup work by Dowling and Downes, two more from Dowling himself, a long-ranger from David Breen, and what had been a tight, tense game was blown open.
Rough justice on Crusheen, eventually, and they had legitimate claims for a penalty in the 18th minute ignored, but overall their lack of any kind of goal-scoring threat cost dearly. They were overrun eventually, but can still hold their heads high. On a dreary day, they played their part.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: A Breen 1-3, S Dowling 0-3 (2fs, 0-1 65), K Downes, D Breen 0-2 each, K Kennedy, K Ryan, C King 0-1 each.
Scorers for Crusheen: J Fitzgibbon 0-4, P Vaughan 0-3 (2fs), T Meaney, D Forde, 0-1 each.
Subs for Na Piarsaigh: A Breen for Gleeson (28), A Hennessy for Cunningham (40), J Madden for O’Neill (48).
Subs for Crusheen: C O’Donnell for Forde (45), J Meaney for T Meaney (51).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
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