WHEN Shane O'Neill was growing up Na Piarsaigh were a junior hurling club.
That wasn't’t even 25 years ago.
It was 1994 when they won the Limerick IHC to graduate to the top flight of club hurling for the first time.
Next Thursday O'Neill manages a Na Piarsaigh senior hurling side, striving to be the envy of the over 2,000 affiliated GAA clubs in Ireland and lift the Tommy Moore Cup by beating Antrim’s Cushendall in the All Ireland club SHC final in Croke Park. The game has a 2.00 start and will be live on TG4.
“It’s a huge occasion for the club - not something you would have thought the club would be striving for a couple of years ago but since 2011 the whole focus and belief has improved every year,” explained O’Neill.
“I think the club has become more nationally renowned in the last few years with us competing and winning provincial titles but to win the All Ireland you would be joining the elite,” said the manager with a sense of expectation.
“Most of the lads that I hurled with played junior and won the junior championship and then myself Aidan Ryan and Donal Hickey came on at intermediate level maybe a year or two after they won the junior. We lost an intermediate final to Blackrock and then we beat Tournafulla in the final. We did well for a couple of years but then we were competing for knockout stages but after Adare hammered us in a semi final in 2001 right up to 2009 we were just surviving. It was all about making sure we were safe and then it all changed,” he said, referencing the last five years of success.
“I remember watching finals in Croke Park not so long ago and thinking we were miles away from them but now the level of challenge matches that we are approached for would show the status that we are held in,” he said with some satisfaction.
O’Neill leads his side out of the dressing rooms beneath the Cusack Stand on St Patricks Day in just his second season as manager – taking over from Sean Stack in the Spring of 2014.
”I have learned that you have to go with your gut a lot more than what I would have thought. All the best plans are laid and then something happens on the pitch when you think you have everything legislated for. You have to make a lot of decisions on your feet with Bermo (Kieran Bermingham) and Alan (Cunningham). Alan’s experience has been phenomenal in terms of preparation and on match day - I have never seen a coach like him. Bermo stepped in to train the boys when Sean (Stack) stepped down because there was a few weeks when we didn’t have anybody and he got a great reaction and he has been superb with the boys,” said the manager of his side-kicks.
While O’Neill played under a host of managers and coaches with club and county, his father Mick was and remains a club stalwart.
”Dad had a very gruff exterior with all the boys underage but he had great respect for them all - from a young age he instilled discipline and he it totally passionate about hurling, which is what I have got from him,” recalled Shane.
“He was able to give that to whatever kids were under him and they always gave 100%,” he said of their Bord na nOg days.
“We try to get the best from whatever players we had and at times I think we have but not for a full 60-minutes in any match. The style and quality of hurling has changed at the highest level of club hurling because you are dealing with so many inter-county guys and the expectation from these guys is professional and anything else just isn’t acceptable,” outlined the Na Piarsaigh manager.