The final whistle had a chilling effect. Supporters and players from Na Piarsaigh stood without movement as they slowly realised that the dream of playing in the All Ireland Club final had slipped from their grasp.
The North Dublin venue of Parnell Park had a frosty chill in the air but those who attended this game will remember it for a few reasons, notably the quality of hurling from both teams but also for the outstanding display by Liam Watson who finished the game with 16 points to his credit for Loughgiel Shamrocks.
As games go this encounter had everything but it was clear long before the throw in that the Ulster champions were very much up for this game. The team went through a very impressive warm up and looked to have a greater focus than Na Piarsaigh.
We had to wait only a short time to witness that focus because it was clear from the first whistle that Loughgiel had the greater bite to their game. They showed massive intensity during the opening spells and at times they made Na Piarsaigh look very ordinary.
Na Piarsaigh waited for things to happen instead of making them happen and during the opening 15 minutes they were struggling to come to terms with the furious challenge provided by Loughgiel Shamrocks.
Loughgiel controlled the majority of possession and were winning in the vital areas of the field but despite such dominance Na Piarsaigh kept themselves in touch with a few points from Shane O’Neill, Shane Dowling and David Breen.
The way Na Piarsaigh set themselves up from the start of this game did not help them in any way and, on reflection, the selectors might agree that playing five forwards just did not work as it allowed Loughgiel dictate the game from the half back line. The decision of the forwards to stray towards the 40-yard line also suited Loughgiel and overall Na Piarsaigh were now in real trouble from the very early stages of this game.
Loughgiel were very impressive and one could see they had their homework done on Na Piarsaigh. Liam Watson was moved to full forward from the start and single handedly this man had the Na Piarsaigh defence in his pocket. Watson was just magic - his footwork was matched by a sublime first touch that yielded him some outstanding scores.
As a unit Na Piarsaigh were finding it hard to cope and for the first time in this championship they were finding it very hard to make any progress. With 20 minutes gone they were adrift by four points but that should have been much more had Loughgiel taken the very many chances they got.
Na Piarsaigh were guilty of some very poor wides and with only a couple of minutes to go to half time Loughgiel had added two more points which saw them now down by six points.
Na Piarsaigh needed something to happen before the break and the first signs of this came when David Breen blasted a rasping shot only to be brilliantly saved by Loughgiel keeper Damian Quinn.
Breen was now setting the pace for Na Piarsaigh and working harder than I have ever seen him before. Deep in added time he received a well directed pass from Kieran Kennedy and this time he made a better choice and kept the ball on the ground giving Quinn no chance. Na Piarsaigh badly needed such a lift and despite playing so poorly they were now just three points behind at half time.
The second half of this game produced some outstanding periods of hurling and unlike the first half many of the Na Piarsaigh players were now much more involved and the quality of their hurling meant they would not leave this contest without a major fight.
The big difference in the second half was that Na Piarsaigh got stuck in and they were prepared to battle and from that they got breaks. Another factor that resulted from this was, that for the first time, Loughgiel started to foul much more and such frees played a part in bringing Na Piarsaigh back into the game.
James O’Brien, who had a quiet first half, was now starting to win vital ball in the air and his deliveries put huge pressure on the Loughgiel defence who were starting to lose their nerve and gave away frees that Shane Dowling put over. With 20 minutes gone in the second half Loughgiel were still very much in control and leading 0-17 to 1-8.
Little did we think then that they would score only once more in the final 13 minutes of play. Kevin Ryan was doing huge work for Na Piarsaigh while David Breen ran at the defence as much as he could.
Two pointed frees by Dowling and one from play by David Breen reduced the margin to three points with five minutes left in the game. The remaining minutes saw Na Piarsaigh play with some real honesty and when substitute Robert Sheehan whipped on a ground ball that somehow found its way to the net, amazingly only one point separated the teams and we were now in added time.
The Na Piarsaigh supporters were now on their feet and when Alan Dempsey delivered to Shane Dowling, who in turn showed great vision to find Kevin Downes, the resulting shot hit the target and the game went into extra time.
Loughgiel must have wondered how they allowed this happen. For the second time they had allowed Na Piarsaigh back into the game and now extra time would be needed to find a winner. Little enough separated the teams in the opening added ten minutes and Na Piarsaigh were only two behind entering the second period.
We may not have known it then but the Na Piarsaigh challenge was to collapse as Loughgiel landed six points without reply and secured a place against Coolderry from Offaly in the All Ireland Final.
It has been a great run for Na Piarsaigh and on their maiden voyage they have represented Limerick so well. They will have learned a lot from this campaign and that will serve them well in the future. The disappointment from this will take a while to get over but they will be back.
Hurlers must be ready to hit the ground running
The National Hurling League is just around the corner and if the recent Waterford Crystal game is anything to go by then it looks like we will have a big crowd for the Saturday night fixture between Limerick and Clare. Over the past few weeks I have gone to see the five top teams in Munster training and I would have to say I was very impressed by what I saw. The quality and the level of intensity in Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and Clare were massive but, if I am honest, I did not see the same levels in Limerick. Clare has a very big panel in training and this young squad will be in good shape for League and Championship. I am expecting to see a very tough game between Limerick and Clare and it will give us a fair idea of the state of play in both of these teams. Clare have worked very hard in January and I was very impressed by the application of the players. They have brought in Davy Fitzgerald and unless Limerick are in good shape and ready for battle they could well start the League on the wrong foot. The upcoming League has to produce a settled Limerick team going into the Championship and, unlike last year, we must make sure to have the core of the team right. The defence has to be right and at this early stage I would like to see a full back line of Seamus Hickey, David Breen and Tom Condon. Hickey will be away for a couple of months but corner back is his best position. It will be interesting to see how the team will progress and let’s hope they can get off to a great start against Clare.