Limerick kingpins Na Piarsaigh meet familiar foes Ballygunner in Munster final

Jerome O'Connell

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Jerome O'Connell

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joconnell@limerickleader.ie

Limerick kingpins Na Piarsaigh meet familiar foes Ballygunner in Munster final

Finalists: Pauric Mahony, Ballygunner and Ronan Lynch, Na Piarsaigh ahead of Sunday's Munster club SHC final

LIMERICK kingpins Na Piarsaigh chase a fourth Munster club SHC title in seven years this Sunday afternoon.

The Limerick city side travel to Thurles where they face Waterford champions Ballygunner in a repeat of the 2015.

The provincial final has a 2.00 start and will be televised live on TG4.

The Caherdavin side bring an unbeaten record of 10 Munster championship games into the final as they bid to add another O’Neill Cup success to their 2011, ‘13 and ‘15 successes.

While Na Piarsaigh have already cemented their place in history with the St Patricks Day All Ireland win of 2016, victory on Sunday will make the northside GAA club Limerick’s most successful in Munster.

Indeed a fourth title will move Na Piarsaigh into second on the Munster club SHC roll of honour just behind five time winners Blackrock.

Victory on Sunday will move Na Piarsaigh into a February All Ireland semi final against Ulster champions Slaughneil of Derry. While 10 clubs remain in the race for All Ireland honours, Na Piarsaigh are already the 5/4 to lift a second title in Croke Park.

Sunday should be the biggest test of the year for Na Piarsaigh, who had 22-points to spare over Blackrock in the semi final and an eight point Limerick SHC final win over Kilmallock. If anything, the Light Blues may have preferred some sterner tests, which Ballygunner certainly got against Thurles Sarsfields and Sixmilebridge.

Ahead of Sunday’s final, Na Piarsaigh’s Ronan Lynch was in Dublin this Tuesday for a media event hosted by sponsors AIB.

The Limerick champions are 1/2 favourites to beat Ballygunner in Thurles but Lynch, a two time All Ireland U-21 winner, insists the Waterford champions are a formidable force.

“They’re going to be gunning for a Munster title as much as anybody if they get that opportunity. It’s more about looking forward to that; if I could play that game today, I’d love to play, because that’s why you play. To play the best teams, and Ballygunner are one of those,” said Lynch.

“I have full belief in our squad, I think we’re a very strong team, but you have to admire Ballygunner in the past four or five years. They’re a serious outfit and, if we’re anything short of our best on Sunday, they’ll be all over us,” said UL student Lynch.

Both sides will be without a key player on Sunday – Shane Dowling (Na Piarsaigh) and Brian O’Sullivan (Ballygunner) ruled out injured.

The Waterford side will be able to call upon four players that played in Waterford’s All Ireland SHC final loss to Galway in September – Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan and Mahony brothers, Philip and Pauric.

“The two Mahony's will be playing, the two of them were missing the final in 2015. Now we were missing David Breen for the majority of it as well, I think he only came on with ten minutes to go. I see nothing between the teams at all,” said Lynch, who will be on free-taking duty in the absence of Dowling.

“We’re all really looking forward to it, and it will put us to the pin of our collar. If we’re 50-50 going into the last five minutes, let the best team win,” said the former Ardscoil Ris student.

Lynch made his senior Na Piarsaigh debut in the All Ireland club semi final loss to Portumna in 2014.

When Na Piarsaigh made their Munster club SHC debut down in Walsh Park in 2011 against Ballygunner Lynch was among the travelling support.

Just six members of that starting team are likely to again be in the line-up ; Padraic Kennedy, Cathall King, Alan Dempsey, David and Adrian Breen and Kevin Downes.

Shane Dowling scored two goals in the 2011 comeback win over Ballygunner but misses out this time round due to injury.

While Ballygunner could have as many as 11 remaining in their line-up from 2011 to 2017, Na Piarsaigh have continually altered year-on-year, dipping into a pool of players that have helped the Caherdavin club to the last six Premier U21 championships in Limerick.

Casey brothers Mike and Peter, Boylan brothers Conor and Jerome, William O’Donoghue, David Dempsey, Ronan Lynch, Thomas Grimes and Niall Buckley are all now first choice players for a club that supplies 10 members of the new-look 2018 Limerick hurling panel.