SOMETIMES in sport you have to show grit, sometimes you have to dig deep to cross the line of victory.
Last Saturday in Thurles Na Piarsaigh displayed both and in doing so they are now just an hour away from making history for their club and Limerick. In time they will remember this day for many reasons but most of all it was the manner of the victory.
They went into the game as hot favourites but I always felt that Oulart The Ballagh would bring a massive challenge and to their credit that they did. Some of the big guns in the Na Piarsaigh team were below par but as a unit they worked very hard and kept their composure to win a game that will stand to them in March but also in the years ahead.
As a team Na Piarsaigh have developed hugely over the past twelve months. They now are playing with more confidence and patience. Added to that some of the young guns have made a massive contribution to a team that is now well balanced.
The Wexford champions had momentum in the second half and had chances to close out the game. Na Piarsaigh failed to score for the last ten minutes but despite that they hung on as Oulart The Ballagh levelled matters on the 60th minute.
The passion for club was written all over this game. Both teams battled on what was a very poor sod in Thurles as players cramped in normal and extra time.
Na Piarsaigh hit some very bad wides during the game but some of the misses from frees could have been very costly.
Long before last Saturday I have championed Will O’Donoghue and Alan Dempsey and it was these two men that showed the greatest leadership for Na Piarsaigh. They were truly outstanding, they covered ground won dirty ball and also landed some critical scores. O’Donoghue is steely, wiry in the tackle but also has talent and we saw lots of it in this game. It hard to believe that Alan Dempsey is not a member of the Limerick senior hurling panel. Why is that?
A quick look at the names on the panel would suggest he is miles ahead of some. The Limerick management might want to rethink their decision on Dempsey because most hurling people find it hard to understand how he was left out of the panel in the first place.
It looked like the teams would be level going into the half time break but a free from Ronan Lynch found David Breen and he tucked it well into the corner to give his team an unlikely lead at half time. Ronan Lynch was hesitant in lifting the ball and it looked like he had to go at it a second time but it proved to be a vital bit of good fortune for Na Piarsaigh.
The Na Piarsaigh half back line were under a lot of pressure and it resulted in many frees for Oulart The Ballagh. Nicky Kirwan was sharp on frees and finished the game with ten points to his name.
Na Piarsaigh’s play lacked flow and purpose and many of their players were struggling to get into the game. Shane O’Neill might have offered a few harsh words in the dressing room at half time and they were needed. Points from Shane Dowling, David Dempsey and Kevin Downes showed more urgency in the team. They didn’t push on from here and scored only two points in the remaining 20 minutes of the game. Oulart The Ballagh in contrast showed more of an appetite for hard work during this crucial period of the game and came so close to winning this contest.
The Wexford men put everything on the plate and deserved a draw but they were always going to find it difficult to contain Na Piarsaigh in extra time. Winning in the way that they did will stand to Na Piarsaigh but it will also act as a reminder that they must take every opportunity from play and most of all from placed balls.
When it mattered players like Kevin Downes, the Casey and Breen brothers, Ronan Lynch and Cathal King delivered to seal a memorable win for the Ennis road club. As a team Na Piarsaigh have been one of the most consistent in Ireland over the past few years.
The only trophy missing in the collection is the All Ireland club title and without wanting to place any pressure on the team, management or club I feel they will put that right on St Patrick’s day in Croke Park. The last few years have provided great success for the Na Piarsaigh club, all of that success has come about because of dedicated people that did so much work at underage level to bring these and many other players through. To me they are the real heroes that do the work away from the glory of big match days. The contribution made by these people must never be forgotten.
Limerick clubs have come close before but have never managed to seal the deal on St Patrick’s day. It shows the quality in Limerick club hurling that a Limerick team will be back in Croke Park once again and it’s the hope of all supporters that this time we will see history made.