THE pure silence in the Na Piarsaigh dressing room said everything after they were beaten 0-27 to 2-13 by Loughiel Shamrocks in the All Ireland semi-final on Saturday,
In a way it demonstrated just how far the Caherdavin club have come in the past 12 months that defeat in an All-Ireland senior club hurling championship semi-final was the cause of such heartbreak.
But all knew that they had come within a win of Croke Park and failed to bring their best to the table.
Yes, they lost after extra-time but had the Limerick and Munster champions been eliminated at the end of the 60 minutes they could have had no complaints.
The dramatic fight back did demonstrate the huge pride of character that now exists in Sean Stack’s panel but from the opening minutes of this clash in Parnell Park they were playing catch-up.
This was another step up in class and for the first time since their remarkable journey started early last summer, Na Piarsaigh were second best.
Loughgiel suffered defeat at this stage last season and from the early exchanges it was evident that the Antrim side were not going to be beaten again.
Just like in the stands, they out-numbered Na Piarsaigh in all battles throughout the field – they hunted in packs and their huge intensity saw them dicate in most areas.
In a frantic start it was end to end stuff with the sides level on five occasions up to the end of the opening quarter, 0-5 each.
Already the sharpness and experience of the Ulster champions was evident but Shane O’Neill, David Breen and midfielders Cathal King and Pat Gleeson all had fine scores from play for the men in light blue.
But then Loughgiel upped the tempo and Na Piarsaigh and left gasping for air.
Liam Watson was the ‘go to man’ for the men in red and he answered his side’s call in fine fashion. The marksman was to end with 16-points and while his free-taking was unerring, it was six points from play that proved to be the difference.
Na Piarsaigh may look back and wonder if a two-man full forward line was best policy because when they did attack they only appeared to be giving Loughgiel a platform to launch another attack.
And, at the other end of the field, Loughgiel were deadly accurate with Watson, Eddie McCloskey and Joey Scullion all razor sharp and a booking for Kieran Breen promted his withdrawal and a defensive reshuffle for the Limerick city men.
With half time approaching, Na Piarsaigh were in deep trouble and trailing 0-11 to 0-5.
David Breen almost gave them a lifeline but his goalbound shot was superbly saved at the near post by Damien Quinn.
But then in the fourth minute of injury-time Breen did find the net when crashing home a fine goal after he powered through from the centre forward.
At 0-11 to 1-5, Na Piarsaigh were still in contention and how relieved they were.
But they couldn’t cut that lead in the second half with just frees from Shane Dowling keeping pace with Loughgiel.
Na Piarsaigh almost found a second goal 10-minutes into the half when a flurry of hurleys pulled on a long free from Dowling but again Quinn was quickly down to divert the sliothar around his post.
Three successive points midway through the half increased the Antrim lead, 0-17 to 1-8.
With the game slipped further away from them David Breen had his side’s first score from play in the half in the 24th minute.
It looking like they would need a goal to pull this one from the fire and after a fine solo Kevin Ryan had to shoot one handed to leave Quinn with an easy save.
When Brendan McCarry made it 0-18 to 1-11, the fourth official showed three minutes of added time and the end of a nine game unbeaten run looked to be confirmed.
Then with his first touch sub Robert Sheehan somehow found the net to kick-start another late recovery from Na Piarsaigh.
After no score earlier in the game, it fell to Kevin Downes to seal the unlikely fight back when he swiveled to fire over for a 2-12 to 0-18 draw after a 60-minutes that saw Na Piarsaigh shoot 10-wides and Loughgiel just five.
Na Piarsaigh should have held the edge in confidence for extra time with Loughgiel shell shocked.
But this didn’t materialise and a point from Adrian Breen midway through the opening half was to be their only score.
Loughgiel were 0-21 to 2-13 clear heading into the final 10-minute period and then with Na Piarsaigh throwing caution forward, the Antrim men cut loose to advance to the Croke Park final on March 17 against Offaly’s Coolderry.
SCORERS - Na Piarsaigh: Shane Dowling 0-6 (four frees, two ’65s), David Breen 1-2, Robert Sheehan 1-0, Shane O’Neill, Cathal King, Pat Gleeson, Kevin Downes, Adrian Breen 0-1 each. Loughgiel: Liam Watson 0-16 (nine frees, one ‘65), Eddie McCloskey and Joseph Scullion 0-3 each, Declan Laverty and Brendan McCarry 0-2 each, Mark McFadden 0-1.
NA PIARSAIGH – Padraic Kennedy; David Lynch, Kieran Breen, Kieran Bermingham; Alan Dempsey, James O’Brien, Brian Hartnett; Cathal King, Pat Gleeson; Shane Dowling, David Breen, Shane O’Neill; Kieran Kennedy, Kevin Downes, Kevin Ryan. Subs: Adrain Breen for Kieran Breen (28mins), John Madden for Pat Gleeson (57mins), Robert Sheehan for Shane O’Neill (59mins), Shane O’Neill for Robert Sheehan (e-t), Pat Gleeson for John Madden (13mins, e-t).
LOUGHGIEL SHAMROCKS – Damien Quinn; Paul Gillan, Neill McGarry, Ronan Mccloskey; James Campbell, Martin Scullion, Johnny Campbell; Barney McAuley, Mark McFadden; Joseph Scullion, Declan Laverty, Eddie McCloskey; Brendan McCarry, Liam Watson, Shay Casey. Subs: Dan McCloskey for Declan Laverty (47mins), Tony McCloskey for Mark McFadden (59mins), Declan Laverty for Paul Gillan (59mins), Paul Gillan for Dan McCloskey (e-t), Mark McFadden for Tony McCloskey (e-t), Damien Laverty for Shay Casey (4mins, e-t), Seamus Dobbin for Barney McAuley (16mins, e-t), Chris O’Connell for Liam Watson (19mins, e-t).
REFEREE – Anthony Stapleton (Laois).