Na Piarsaigh make mark on history with crushing victory

First All-Ireland for a Limerick hurling club after emphatic win over Cushendall


Na Piarsaigh 2-25

Ruairí Óg Cushendall 2-14

For a competition that routinely throws up thrillers and humdingers in its preliminary stages, the club hurling championship has developed a fairly dreary habit of producing one-sided finals over the past decade. So it was again here, where Na Piarsaigh from Limerick city’s northside were out the gap and away from Cushendall well before half-time.


Not that it will take a hair out of the new champions, who eased to the title in front of a Patrick's Day crowd of 31,518. They go home with the first ever hurling All-Ireland for a Limerick club, the final margin 11 points. Sterling displays from Adrian and David Breen as well as Alan Dempsey and Shane Dowling carried them through an afternoon where they got their business done early and lived off the interest thereafter.

This was their first time in an All-Ireland final but these past few years of getting out of Munster had taught them harsh lessons. Chief among them came in an All-Ireland semi-final four years ago against another Antrim side Loughgiel, when they waltzed into heavy fire having fatally underestimated the task at hand. Coming to Croke Park this time around, they weren’t going to get fooled again.

‘Physical match’

“Without a doubt,” agreed manager Shane O’Neill. “Some of the boys thought that was the most physical match they had played so there was no way we were going to get ambushed today. We were fully focused on our performance and on giving it a right go.

“It’s great for Limerick but I suppose we were only concentrating on ourselves and making sure we did the business. When you look back and reflect, this is the first time that a Limerick team has won in Croke Park in many years.”

This got ugly early. For Kilmallock in 2015 and Mount Leinster Rangers in 2014, read Cushendall in 2016. They got behind to a goal inside 40 seconds, started snatching at their chances when the gap was still manageable and fell away fairly rapidly thereafter. In all likelihood the Limerick team were going to be too strong for them anyway but this way, they never stood a chance.

Adrian Breen was a late addition to the Na Piarsaigh side and his first involvement fully justified his inclusion. Latching onto a searching ball from midfielder Alan Dempsey, Breen jinked inside the cover at the Canal End and stitched his finish past Eoin Gillan in the Cushendall goal. And though the Antrim side put in a small burst of defiance with the next two points in reply, Na Piarsaigh soon settled into an irresistible rhythm.

They were 1-4 to 0-2 up after 10 minutes and extended it to 1-9 to 0-3 by the 20th. Everywhere you looked, they had much the stronger hand to play. Dowling landed an early bomb from out around midfield and followed it up with a brace of frees. Corner-forward Peter Casey was another who got his eye in early, punishing a loose puck out with a smart point. Dempsey swung over a couple of his own and soon Na Piarsaigh were disappearing over the horizon. Sight of goal If there was any doubt, Kevin Downes removed it with a goal five minutes before the break. Cushendall had actually been in for a sight of goal at the other end but once Pádraic Kennedy made the save, he picked out wing back Cathal King. The Na Piarsaigh captain sprinted up the right wing before feeding Downes who finished with aplomb. By half-time, the score stood at 2-12 to 0-6 and the second half hour was only fixture filling.

“They got the start that we wanted,” said the Ruairí Óg manager John McKillop. “When we put it up to them, we were every bit as good as them, but it took us too long to realise what we were in. When we got going, we were every bit as good as them. Maybe they didn’t allow us to hurl, but when we get going we are as good as any team in Ireland. I feel it took us too long.”

To Cushendall’s credit, they could only come out and win the second half, which they did by 2-8 to 0-13. Neil McManus and Karl McKeegan swished home a goal apiece from long balls dropped into the Na Piarsaigh square. But the gap never went below double figures and Na Piarsaigh had nothing to worry about from a long way out.

NA PIARSAIGH: Pádraic Kennedy; Mike Casey, Kieran Breen, Kieran Kennedy; Mike Foley, Ronan Lynch (0-1, free), Cathal King; Alan Dempsey (0-4), Will O'Donoghue (0-1); Shane Dowling (0-7, 0-5 free), David Breen (0-2), Adrian Breen (1-4); Kevin Downes (1-2), David Dempsey, Peter Casey (0-3). Subs: Kevin Ryan for D Breen( 54 mins), Pat Gleeson (0-1, 65) for O'Donoghue (57 mins).

RUAIRÍ ÓG CUSHENDALL: Eoin Gillan; Ryan McCambridge, Martin Burke, Aaron Graffin; David Kearney, Eoghan Campbell (0-1), Seán Delargy; Shane McNaughton (0-4), Alec Delargy (0-1); Conor Carson (0-1), Neil McManus (1-7, 0-7 frees), Seán McAfee; Paddy McGill, Donal McNaughton, Christy McNaughton. Subs: Eoin Laverty for McManus (temp, 20-23 mins), Paddy Burke for Delargy (34 mins), Karl McKeegan (1-0) for D McNaughton (38 mins), Aidan McNaughton for C McNaughton (51 mins), Eunan McKillop for Graffin (56 mins).

Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times