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Na Piarsaigh leave their Cork opponents properly ‘hammered’

A fourth Munster club final in seven years now beckons for the Limerick champions

Na Piarsaigh’s Conor Boylan shields his eyes from the sun during his team’s win over Blackrock. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Na Piarsaigh 2-26 Blackrock 0-10

These are heady days for Limerick club hurling. A fourth Munster final in seven years now beckons for Na Piarsaigh and with that the chance to extend their impeccable record: played three, won three, primed for number four.

In getting back there the city’s northside club sent out a warning as much as a statement – dismantling their Cork opponents from the throw-in and finishing up with a 22-point victory margin that left the visitors properly “hammered” in every sense.

Blackrock manager Fergal Ryan used that word by the way, not being overly harsh on his team but simply because it’s true. If a mismatch of this sort happened at county level there might well be some pale faces around Cork, but Blackrock are a young and promising side trying to rebuild the club’s once formidable position.

Indeed half the Blackrock panel are under-21, and also came in on the back of a county final defeat, losing to east Cork divisional side Imokilly (who under rule don’t get to compete in the province). That disparity in experience and class and skill was evident throughout the field as Na Piarsaigh went about sealing their final place, having won the Munster title in 2011, 2013, and 2015, not forgetting their All-Ireland title of 2016.

What it does set up is a blockbuster Munster final showdown against Ballygunner, the Waterford champions coming from behind to Sixmilebridge in the other semi-final, still building on their unstoppable momentum of recent weeks.

“Yeah Ballygunner had the route we had a couple of years ago, when we beat Sixmilebridge, then Thurles, then Ballygunner in the final,” said Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill. “That helped us, the momentum, and I know they’ve had eight or nine weeks on the trot. I think they’re better again this year, from what I’ve seen, so it will be a real battle.

“This ended up a bit easier than expected, but from the start they were a little depleted, missing three players, so we felt if we started strongly that might sow some doubts. We fell asleep after the second goal. A couple of years ago we’d struggle at the start, finish strongly, so it depends on the day, the opposition.”

Na Piarsaigh were depleted too – without injured marksman Shane Dowling, only for Ronan Lynch to step majestically into that role with his 0-15, including 10 frees, two 65s, and a sweetly struck sideline.

“Well you always miss Shane Dowling,” added O’Neill, “and we’re going to miss him the next day as well. But Ronan stepped up very well with the dead balls, missed a couple alright which he normally wouldn’t, but got some great scores.”

The Gaelic Grounds, all 1,829 paying spectators, were mostly hushed once the home team hit two goals in quick succession just after the quarter hour mark; corner forward Peter Casey brilliantly finishing a move that began in their full-back line, before moments later David Breen breezed through the Blackrock defence to add their second.

They finished with nine different scorers, including substitute Kevin Ryan, and while Dowling’s knee injury will again keep him out of the Munster final, this is team playing with confidence soaring. Their unbeaten run in Munster finals can only reinforce that.

“If you start thinking about records you stop thinking about trying to perform on the day,” added O’Neill. “But yeah, these guys know they’re a Munster hurling team.”

Up front Blackrock were reliant on Cork panellist Michael O’Halloran, who hit four frees; the rest were the slimmest of pickings, one each from play from six different scorers, none anywhere near close enough to goal to make the necessary impact.

They were 10 points adrift after 20 minutes and again in the words of their manager, the harder Blackrock chased the further they found themselves adrift; down 2-11 to 0-6 at half-time, there was no way back from there.

“I thought the appetite was there, training went well the last week,” said Ryan, the Blackrock manager making no excuses, “but we didn’t muster up anything at all. We dropped balls, fumbled balls out over the line, very basic errors, and mentally we just looked spent.

“But Na Piarsaigh absolutely played, and hammered us. We chased the game from the very start, and the harder we chased the further it went away from us. If you leave them play it they’re certainly going to punish you, and that’s what happened.

“So it’s a disappointing finish to our year, but we can look back and hopefully take some positives, that it was an experience for those lads, getting some Munster club experience. There’s about 13 of that panel that are under-21, so this is all experience, mentally, losing big games and picking themselves up again.

“We couldn’t quite pick ourselves up from the county final, because I thought we played poorly, and that’s not taking from the fact we were comprehensively beaten, but also contributed to the bit of the clipping we just got.”

NA PIARSAIGH (LIMERICK): P Kennedy; J Boylan, M Casey, N Buckley (0-1); A Dempsey, C King, T Grimes; R Lynch (0-15, 10 frees, two 65s, one sideline), W O’Donoghue (0-1); C Boylan (0-1), D Breen (1-0), D Dempsey; A Breen (0-3), K Downes (0-1), P Casey (1-3).

Subs: G Brown for Dempsey (half time), K Ryan (0-1) for Casey (44mins), M Foley for Grimes (48 mins), J O’Brien for Buckley (55 mins), K Kennedy for Boylan (56 mins).

BLACKROCK (CORK): G Connolly; J Cashman, D Stokes, G Norberg; A Murphy, N Cashman, D Meaney; S Murphy, D O’Farrell (0-1); J O’Sullivan (0-1), A O’Callaghan (0-1), G O’Regan (0-1); M O’Halloran (0-4, all frees), T Deasy, D Cashman (0-1).

Subs: A Hogan for D Cashman (half time), L O’Sullivan (0-1) for J O’Sullivan (45 mins), C O’Leary for Deasy (49 mins), E O’Farrell for O’Callaghan (56 mins), B Ahern for Norberg (56 mins).

Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)