Na Piarsaigh hold off Ballygunner to claim Munster crown
Limerick side reel off two late goals to secure their fourth provincial title in Thurles
Conor Boylan celebrates Na Piarsaigh’s second goal in their Munster final win over Ballygunner. Photograph: james Crombie/Inpho
Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 3-15 Ballygunner (Waterford) 2-10
Na Piarsaigh hit two late goals to pull away to victory, but this was far from the big win the scoreline suggests as the Limerick side survived a late Ballygunner comeback to extend their unbeaten provincial run to 11 games.
Played in front of 3,319 at Semple Stadium, Na Piarsaigh seemingly had their fourth Munster title wrapped up when Ronan Lynch slotted his second sideline cut of the game with four minutes remaining.
That score put his team four points ahead of the Waterford men, but Peter Hogan’s goal less than a minute later hinted at a memorable comeback for the Déise side.
But instead it was Na Piarsaigh who finished the stronger. Adrian Breen brought his personal tally to 1-5 when he scrambled the ball into the net a minute from time, while David Breen found the roof of Stephen O’Keeffe’s net in the 65th minute to put an unfair slant on the result.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s only after the game now but it feels like the sweetest one yet,” said Na Piarsaigh forward Kevin Downes.
“It was a serious battle and we knew it would be coming up here. At half-time we were disappointed.
“We felt we had played within ourselves but, fair play to Ballygunner, they were responsible for a lot of it. Even at the start of the second-half they thundered into it and we just had to dig in.
“We’re at the end of November here and it’s not fancy and it’s not pretty at times. You have to dig in.
“There was a lot of graft that went in before that second-half today. It was great to be able to bring that for a Munster final in Thurles. It was huge.”
Considering how much Na Piarsaigh struggled in the opening 25 minutes it was remarkable that they only trailed 1-4 to 0-6 at half-time. They were second to nearly every dropping ball, they were physically dominated by their Waterford opponents, and their striking and handling left a lot to be desired at times.
After the teams shared four early points Conor Power’s goal after ten minutes gave Ballygunner a 1-2 to 0-2 lead. Indeed that advantage could have been far greater had Waterford senior Pauric Mahony been in his usual form from placed balls. Before half time he hit three wides and dropped another two frees short, while his woes continued after the break and he was eventually replaced by Billy O’Keeffe on freetaking duties.
Ballygunner held that four-point lead until the closing minutes of the half when Lynch, Peter Casey and Adrian Breen all pointed to close the lead to just a point.
Ballygunner started brightly after the break thanks to a Pauric Mahony wonder point from distance, and a bright five minutes saw them open up a four-point lead once more.
But Na Piarsaigh took control once again. Peter Casey landed a fine point from the right, before David Breen goaled and quick points from Adrian Breen and Kevin Downes gave them a 1-9 to 1-7 lead. It was a remarkable turnaround in the space of six minutes.
The Limerick side were looking for their fourth Munster title in four attempts and they seemed to be well in control when Adrian Breen added another point and Lynch landed a sideline cut, but Hogan was sharp to a loose ball and his goal made it 1-13 to 2-9 with time disappearing.
But Na Piarsaigh didn’t panic and they hit back straight away. Adrian Breen was first to the breaking ball off his brother David, and after Barry Coughlan was sent off in the closing action, David Breen broke clear for the clinching third goal.
Na Piarsaigh: P Kennedy; J Boylan, M Casey, N Buckley; A Dempsey, C King (c), T Grimes (0-1); R Lynch (0-3, 0-2’sl, 0-1f), W O’Donoghue; A Breen (1-5), D Breen (2-0), D Dempsey; P Casey (0-3), K Downes (0-2), C Boylan (0-1). Subs: K Ryan for D Dempsey (43 mins), G Brown for C Boylan (61 mins).
Ballygunner: S O’Keeffe; I Kenny, B Coughlan, E Hayden; W Hutchinson, Philip Mahony, S Walsh (jc); H Barnes, S O’Sullivan; Pauric Mahony (jc) (0-2, 0-1f), D O’Sullivan (0-2), C Power (1-0); B O’Keeffe (0-4, 0-1f), JJ Hutchinson, P Hogan (1-2). Subs: C Sheahan for Kenny (21-24 mins blood), T O’Sullivan for JJ Hutchinson (half-time), B O’Sullivan for S Walsh (54 mins), C Sheahan for D O’Sullivan (63 mins).
Referee: Rory McGann (Clare).