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Na Piarsaigh back for another Munster club campaign

Defending the Munster title has been the problem for the Limerick hurling club

Na Piarsaigh’s Shane Dowling: “Once we get out of our county we try to express ourselves. The hardest part is trying to get out of your county.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

So, the only thing harder than winning a Munster club hurling title is defending it. At least according to Na Piarsaigh, Limerick city’s north side club who still boast the best record in the competition since the turn of the century.

After going a lifetime without winning anything they have played in three of the last six Minster finals, and won all three – in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Defending that title has been the problem.

Last year, having gone all the way to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day and winning the All-Ireland outright, Na Piarsaigh once again failed to get out of Limerick.

Now, having won a fourth Limerick county title in seven years they face into another Munster campaign on Sunday in their semi-final showdown against Blackrock, the Cork kingpins who in fact lost their county final to east Cork divisional side Imokilly, but still get to represent the county at provincial level.

Limerick county star Shane Dowling admits that putting two successful seasons back-to-back – at county and provincial level – has proven their Achilles heel. The fact they were not successful last year should auger well for Sunday, although Dowling, who will miss the game due to a knee injury picked up in the county final last month, also says that Munster title is still a long way off yet.

“It is two years since we won it now, and for us it was all about the county final. It is not a cliché, it was all about that. It was only 2011 that we won our first [Limerick title] and previous to that we lost five county finals in seven years.

“Once we get out of our county we try to express ourselves. The hardest part is trying to get out of your county. Because everyone within the county knows who you are, what you do and what type of game you play. It is not easy, we have never been able to do back-to-backs. It is something we would like to do, but we’ll worry about that next year.”

Hammered

Indeed, it’s not that long since Na Piarsaigh played their first Limerick county final, in 2009, and ended up being hammered by Adare 1-17 to 0-3. Two years later they were Munster champions (the first and still only Limerick club to land that honour), and in 2016 capped off the perfect season with a comprehensive All-Ireland win over Ruairí óg Cushendall. 

Then it all went wrong again after that – and Dowling makes no excuses. “Everything dropped, physically and mentally. Our first game back was against Kilmallock seven weeks after winning the All-Ireland, out in Newcastlewest, a place that I’d say never held a hurling match before. 

“Listen, they were completely up for it, they had just looked at us seven weeks previous, lifting the All-Ireland, something they were beaten in 12 months previously. So they were out to get us, and they got us. And then Doon drew with us...ah, the whole year was a mess. 

“I don’t know if it’s an excuse to say you are tired mentally, but with the game of hurling you should try and win everything when you can. But it has happened every year after we won the county, we were beaten.” 

Is it just a case of too much hurling too soon? 

“Maybe with the All-Ireland, but with the other years, no. It was an effect of not wanting it enough the year after we won it. Nobody to blame but ourselves. We have a good side, and we just didn’t want it enough the year after we won it. From 2010, it has been ourselves and Kilmallock every year. We see them win it, we want it back. And it is the same for Kilmallock.” 

Better balance

Although a successful dual club, Na Piarsaigh’s location in Limerick means there is always some competition from rival rugby and soccer clubs. On that note Dowling sees the recent changes to the league and championship calendars as hopefully offering a better balance to the club player. 

“Club players should be allowed hurl in the summer months as well,” he says. “And the best hurling team doesn’t always win county finals this time of year. You are waiting three months for a game all summer and then there’s a six-day turnaround from the semi-final to the final. It’s so hard to know, though, and the answer will be this time next year.”