Na Piarsaigh claimed the last title of 2011, in the early days of 2012, when they beat Ballysteen 2-8 to 2-7 in the Limerick U-21 FC ‘B’ final last weekend.
Four minutes into stoppage time and a week into the new year, Noel Shannon finally brought the curtain down on 2011 when his 30 yard shot sailed over the crossbar to bring the county U-21 B football title to Caherdavin.
Like the drawn game three weeks earlier, Saturday’s replayed final in Rathkeale’s Mick Neville Park kept the attendance guessing right to the end and extra time appeared to be inevitable after Declan Somers’s long-delayed equaliser before the Na Piarsaigh corner-forward struck with the last movement of the game.
Earlier in the afternoon, it looked as if the City representatives would prevail no matter what their opponents fired at them. Ballysteen may have made better use of possession, may have packed back more effectively when under attack and may have shown more patience when trying to move forward.
But no matter how hard they tried, they were always fighting physique. Whenever the quick response was needed, Na Piarsaigh had the size and the pace to gather the long ball and bring it into the danger zone.
Na Piarsaigh dominated the early possession but tight defending kept them out of the scoring zone. Once Ballysteen settled down, James O’Meara built on their first attack to win the next two kickouts and find the posts after bursting from deep.
The brace of scores woke the City side’s attack and, once they found the measure of their opponents’ left flank, Sheppard struck back, Jamie Fox shot them in front by bursting on to the lay-off and blasting to the net through Joe Guerin’s hands and Noel Shannon followed up with a point.
In danger of being overrun, the Deelsiders began to work the ball from deep and, when Maurice Hayes was footblocked at the end of a sustained attack, Mark Ranahan cracked home an equalising penalty.
Fergal Cassidy and Seán Whelan gave them the lead during their first sustained spell of dominance but, as the half drew to a close, Na Piarsaigh size began to tell once again and they levelled the scores at 1-4 apiece through Niall Earls’s free and Fox.
Despite facing into the breeze, Ballysteen made the brighter restart and could have had more than points from Tom Kelly and Danny Neville’s free before Shannon finished from Na Piarsaigh’s first attack.
The tide turned with the next two kickouts as Sheppard bounded back with a point and Alan Dempsey hammered to the roof of the net at the end of a five-man move.
The tempo dropped after that as Ballysteen threatened but failed to execute and they looked to have shot their bolt when Ronan McKenna pointed on the breakout after Neville had rattled the crossbar at the other end of the pitch.
But they kept plugging away. Reward came when Whelan tapped home after John Boyce’s shot had been blocked and, despite wasting clear chances, Declan Somers equalised off a quick free two minutes into added time. But their joy was fleeting as Shannon found the last gasp point.
SCORERS - Na Piarsaigh: Jamie Fox 1-1, Alan Dempsey 1-0, Noel Shannon 0-3, David Sheppard 0-2, Niall Earls (free) and Ronan McKenna 0-1 each; Ballysteen: Seán Whelan 1-1, Mark Ranahan 1-0 (penalty), James O’Meara and Fergal Cassidy 0-2 each, Danny Neville (free) and Declan Somers 0-1
NA PIARSAIGH - Brian Burke; Alan Finnegan, Conor McLoughlin, Mark Buckley; Craig Airey, James O’Brien, Niall Buckley; Jamie Fox, Eoghan Kenny; David Sheppard, Alan Dempsey, Ian Hickey; Niall Earls, Ronan McKenna, Noel Shannon. Subs: Dean McLoughlin for Craig Airey (20 mins), Evan Coughlan for Ian Hickey (48 mins).
BALLYSTEEN - Joe Guerin; Rob Cuddihy, Pakie Moran, Declan Somers; Mike Kenneally, Tom Kelly, Seán O’Mahony; James O’Meara, Enda Gallagher; Fergal Cassidy, Scott Fitzgerald, Maurice Hayes; Mark Ranahan, Danny Neville, Seán Whelan. Subs: Gearóid Buckley for Mike Kenneally (ht), John Boyce for Maurice Hayes (ht.)
REFEREE - Donie Enright (Dromin-Athlacca)
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