Na Piarsaigh enjoy their finest hour

Na Piarsaigh enjoy their finest hour

WALKING through the front door of the Na Piarsaigh GAA clubhouse guests are immediately struck by the amount of pictures hanging on the walls.

Picture after picture of their famed ‘Street Leagues’ side-by-side with Limerick championship winners from U-12 to senior.

Off the entrance hall to the right is the club gym and to the left the club bar.

It’s hard to pass through the double-doors to the bar without a promise of “Best Guinness in Limerick” from Bar Manager Barry O’Regan but more striking is the end wall trophy cabinet.

The glass cabinet is now home to the Tommy Moore, O’Neill and Daly cups to signal the elevation of Na Piarsaigh to the summit of club hurling in Ireland.

One of just 25 clubs in Ireland to have their name inscribed on the Roll of Honour in Croke Park. More importantly the first Limerick club.

What a climb to the top for the club based on Elm Drive in Caherdavin on the north side of Limerick city.

Hand-in-hand with national schools of JFK and Chriost Ri and the secondary school Ardscoil Ris, Na Piarsaigh have nurtured a new GAA tradition.

Starting out primarily on the football fields, Na Piarsaigh’s hurling journey can be traced back to a Sweet Afton Cup success in 1980 when the city junior championship was won.

Four years later they won the All Ireland Feile na nGael title, with future All Star Damien Quigley on board, and bit by bit they were building foundations for what is now one of the country’s busiest GAA clubs.

Ten years after that national Feile title the prestigious U-14 competition came to Limerick and it prompted Na Piarsaigh to establish their Bord na nOg section with Timmy O’Connor among the driving forces.

“In ‘94 we lost the ‘B’ final in the Gaelic Grounds to Oulart The Ballagh in that Feile,” recalls Liam Kennedy, another of the early pioneers in their underage section.

Soon Saturday mornings became synonymous with GAA in Caherdavin.

“It gathered momentum through the years and even with competition from other sports we gathered crowds. We didn’t relent from Saturday mornings - there may have been a temptation to move for matches in other codes and things but we stuck to our guns. You might lose some players but if you had an affiliation with the club you know we will be there on Saturday morning and all success are because of those morning,” headded.

What Na Piarsaigh now have is a dual senior hurling and football club – the only one in Limerick. A club that won the 2015 Limerick U-21 hurling title and contested the 2015 Limerick U-21 football final. A club that contested two recent Limerick JAHC finals and a club continually challenging at underage level. A club that also offers camogie and is a long time supporter of Scor.

It is also a centre for the community in Caherdavin and such are the demands that the club have purchased more ground to expand their playing facilities.

Throughout the club, the last five years in particular, there is a real bond and loyalty – perfectly demonstrated by the affection within the history-making panel for former chairman and underage mentor Paddy Verdon. A video message circulated to players from the hospital-bound Verdon - a real inspiration in the days ahead of Croke Park.

On and off the field, they continue to raise the bar.

“There is a massive amount of work involved in it - what you do at club level is what you were doing at county level 10 years ago. It takes over your life,” outlines All Ireland winning manager Shane O’Neill.

Credit to O’Neill and his management team of Kieran Bermingham (selector), Alan Cunningham (coach) and Darragh Droog (strength and conditioning) they brought their side to Croke Park and managed to get their best performance of 12 outings on the biggest stage.

And, it’s worth noting that their All Ireland final display came without wrapping their players in cotton wool in preparing for March 17. Players saw action in the Fitzgibbon Cup just days after their extra time semi final win over Oulart The Ballagh and just days before the All Ireland final in the Croke Cup. On top of that were games in the group stages of the Limerick Premier U-21 hurling championship.

Neither did they hide from securing valuable promotion for their club at a time of heightened interest – six different players and management did media work pre All Ireland final, when many others would have insisted on ‘media bans’.

Enroute to the All Ireland title 24 different players saw senior championship action. None are of retirement age so the job of all is to return in a few weeks as hungry and profession as ever in their quest for honours.

On Saturday morning the club shop will again be open, if not sold out after a pre-March 17 surge in sales, the fields will be alive to the sound of youngsters as they bid to ensure the conveyor belt continues. It’s a conveyor belt that gets great assistance.

Kennedy is a former Ardscoil Ris teacher and he knows that players are benefitting from hurling almost all year round.

“The co-operation is invaluable - if you finish a minor championship in October, you go into Ardscoil Ris for a Harty Cup campaign and the Dean Ryan. You are hurling until March so you are never losing your eye for the ball and the sharpness is there when they come back to the club scene in the spring.”

This Monday club members will go to Thurles as club players chase an All Ireland in the colours of Ardscoil.

Across Limerick, GAA supporters will look to the old saying - ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. Na Piarsaigh have broken new ground and the quest is for all is to reach up and help push the bar even higher to ensure Limerick GAA moves forward on the back of breaking the perceived Croke Park hoodoo.