Dowling goes from mascot to main man

Shane Dowling was mascot when St Joseph’s-Doora-Barefield won the All Ireland in 1999 - now he wants to win with Na Piarsaigh. Jerome O’Connell reports

Shane Dowling was mascot when St Joseph’s-Doora-Barefield won the All Ireland in 1999 - now he wants to win with Na Piarsaigh. Jerome O’Connell reports

At just six years of age Shane Dowling ran around Hawthorn Avenue in Caherdavin in his maroon and white jersey of St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield.

Hurley in hand and a Clare flag flying in his bedroom, Dowling was living the All-Ireland club dream.

Just 13 years later the rising star of Limerick hurling is again chasing success on St Patrick’s Day in Croke Park.

Motivation is key for any sporting success and for Dowling the remainder of this club championship is very personal.

Growing up in Caherdavin, among the Dowling’s neighbours was Ger Hoey - a Clare man, but his work as a bank official brought him to Limerick.

On many an evening a young Shane Dowling would join Hoey on his car journey to Roslevan for Doora-Barefield training sessions.

The journey became so regular that Dowling ended up as one of their match-day mascots.

Three years ago this week, Ger Hoey dropped dead when out running.

“It was a great sadness to me when he passed away, three years ago now,” recalled Dowling this week.

“Ger was a huge inspiration to my career and it would be great for us to get to Paddy’s Day and maybe relive what he did - it would be something special for me personally and something that I never dreamed I would get a chance to do. Maybe this is the way that I can repay all the work he did for me,” said the talented 18-year-old.

“Apart from my father (Paddy), who has been an inspiration to me - Ger used to bring me out pucking around most evenings and he would only be home from work,” recalled Dowling of the heydays of the late 90s when Doora-Barefield made their break through to win the 1999 All-Ireland.

“At the time I was only five or six and I was pucking balls around with Jamsie O’Connor, Ollie Baker and Seanie McMahon - I didn’t appreciate that really,” he said with a hint of amazement

“Back in 1999 I had a Clare flag hanging out the window - that’s how much of an inspiration all that was on me. I was going around with a Doora-Barefield jersey and all - I won’t say what I would do with a Clare flag now!” laughed Dowling.

But there is no doubting his motivation in lifting the Tommy Moore Cup or at very least reaching the decider on March 17. “That would be a special day for me ,” he said.

A couple of weeks shy of his 19th birthday, Dowling defies his years to carry mush of the scoring threat for Na Piarsaigh.

In many ways he embodies all that is good about the Caherdavin club - developing step by step from their Saturday morning underage sessions.

“By the time I was 12, it was not a hobby any more, I wanted to win. I was lucky enough to win the U-14 championship and even though it was only four years ago, it was a young age to win a county championship - it gives you that feeling of success and that feeling is super,” he recalled.

“You want to experience that every time you go out to play. I have been lucky enough to win a lot but I have been unlucky to lose a lot of big games as well and I know that feeling from both sides.”

Now working in a Pharmacy owned by club secretary Risteard O’Flaherty, Dowling describes himself as “driven by hurling”.

“Hurling is not a hobby for me anymore, it’s something I want to play every day - it’s an amateur sport but if you saw the amount of work that any of us put in then it’s all but professional.”

He continued: “I have been fortunate enough to win nearly everything that I can with Na Piarsaigh and I realise that many people haven’t - it’s great but it’s only what I would hope to do every year. Next year I will hope to win the seniors and U-21s again and whatever way I am lucky to be part of a Limerick set-up. If you don’t want to win everything, why be part of it,” he queried.

“This year we won the minor and last year the U-21, this year the U-14s and there are fellas winning Harty Cups and the Munster U-21s. A couple of years ago if Na Piarsaigh stayed up senior, that was success now and hopefully for as along as I am playing hurling, if we don’t win a county final it will be a bad year, which is a super way to look at it. I know there are clubs out there and their ambition is to survive but Na Piarsaigh has a high standard now and we need to maintain that,” stressed the hugely ambitious star.

Dowling is the only member of the Na Piarsaigh side to have tasted the club final atmosphere on the pitch in Croke Park and while the memories of a six year old are slightly hazy, his desire to return could yet be key.