Croke Park in sight as Na Piarsaigh learn from experience

Two years after losing the county final by 17 points, Na Piarsaigh are Munster champions. Jerome O’Connell takes a closer look at their success

Two years after losing the county final by 17 points, Na Piarsaigh are Munster champions. Jerome O’Connell takes a closer look at their success

MINUTES after Na Piarsaigh were beaten by 17 points in the 2009 county senior hurling final by Adare, manager Timmy O’Connor spoke to the media.

“We’ve a lot of young lads on that team and there’s a lot of good young players coming through. So the future looks bright for Na Piarsaigh. It didn’t happen today, but hopefully it will happen in the future,” said a dejected O’Connor after his side’s first ever senior final appearance ended in tatters.

Two years later, O’Connor’s prophecy came true when the Daly Cup finally made the short journey from the Gaelic Grounds out the Ennis Road to their Caherdavin base. Sean Stack was coach with O’Connor but when O’Connor became Na Piarsaigh charman, Stack stepped up to manager. It was a seamless change and one that paid rich dividends. There were a number of other key moments too.

1. 2009 changes

Ten of the starting team from the ‘09 final defeat to Adare were in the starting team last Sunday.

Interestingly, all the newcomers are the club’s talented youngsters who have burst their way through bulging with medals and awards - Alan Dempsey, Pat Gleeson, Shane Dowling, Kieran Kennedy and Cathal King.

Of more interest is that just three of the players remain in the same positions as two years ago - goalkeeper Padraig Kennedy, corner back Kieran Bermingham and centre forward David Breen.

2. Solid defence

While there is no doubting the attacking talent available to Na Piarsaigh, their defence was more often than not their achilles heel.

Firming up the central defensive partnership was always key and this season the men in light blue have found the ideal duo.

Kieran Breen was midfield in 2009 but was always more comfortable at full back and has been rock solid throughout 2009. Indeed full back was where he made his only Limerick senior championship appearance back in Ennis in 2006.

In front of him is U-21 player James O’Brien. O’Brien played the majority of his underage and Ardscoil Ris hurling in attack with most identifying him as a No11. Indeed when Justin McCarthy gave him his Limerick senior debut in Tullamore in 2010 it was at wing forward.

But building the defence around Breen and O’Brien has given Na Piarsaigh a solid foundation and they’ve now gone seven games without conceding a goal.

3. Big scalps

Since winning the county intermediate championship in 1994, Na Piarsaigh had beaten most senior clubs throughout Limerick in championship fare.

But the big three of Patrickswell, Adare and Kilmallock continued to dominate Na Piarsaigh.

All that changed in 2010 when Na Piarsaigh shocked Adare in the county quarter-final in a game that was revenge for the final defeat of the previous year.

Then this summer they put the Patrickswell ghost to rest. The confidence gained from these two wins can’t be underestimated.

4. Finishing power

Back in early September, Na Piarsaigh played Patrickswell in the county quarter-final.

David Breen was sent off for a second yellow card in the 41st minute and at the time The Well led 0-11 to 0-8.

But the dismissal galvanised Na Piarsaigh and they were to hit nine successive second half points.

Everyone worked for each other against the extra man and it was to be a defining moment in Na Piarsaigh’s season.

Again in the county final win over Ahane, they put the shoulder to the wheel when they were struggling to find form and then down in Walsh Park it was certainly their huge work ethic that won the day as they again finished well.

It was the same in both games against Crusheen. On both occasions it looked as if the match was going beyond them but they found another gear in the closing minutes.

They almost sealed the deal the first day but when they burst for the finishing line in the replay, Crusheen didn’t have an answer.

5. Young leaders

Seven of the players that saw action last Sunday were part of the Na Piarsaigh side that won the 2010 county U-21 A hurling championship. David Lynch was team captain.

“The big one is to come yet - the losing final drove us on to this, so now hopefully the winning feeling will move us on another small bit and rectify it for the big one later on in the year,” said Lynch of their dream for senior honours.

Success with Ardscoil Ris and the Limerick U-21 side of this summer further enhanced the medals collection of the rising stars and even at their tender age, the likes of Shane Dowling, James O’Brien and Kevin Downes are the leaders on the team.