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'Pushed to the limit' - from All-Ireland final replay defeat to the start of a new county championship

Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh have little time for respite as the 2018 season begins again.

Na Piarsaigh lost out by three points in the All-Ireland club final against Cuala.
Na Piarsaigh lost out by three points in the All-Ireland club final against Cuala.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON 24 MARCH they were sunk in an All-Ireland final replay as a marathon club campaign ended on a shattering note.

On 22 April they must wrap their heads around the prospect of starting out on the road again, the national force that every club in Limerick will be targeting to shoot down.

Just to accentuate the sense of little respite for Na Piarsaigh’s hurlers is the fact that six of them will be handed out awards in Croke Park this Saturday night for their exploits last season before in the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday afternoon they begin a new season.

They’re not alone in facing this scenario. Their conquerors Cuala faced their first 2018 Dublin outing a fortnight after being crowned All-Ireland hurling kingpins.

Beaten football finalists Nemo Rangers returned to Cork championship combat last Saturday night less than a month after a chastening St Patrick’s Day Croke Park experience.

Football victors Corofin have been afforded a break with the Galway championship put on ice ahead of the county’s impending showdown with Mayo but have still picked up a couple of league victories in recent weekends.

Paul Beary was coach when Na Piarsaigh contested the 2012 and 2014 All-Ireland club semi-finals, and has been a supporter for their 2016 and 2018 national journeys.

Paul Beary Paul Beary has taken over at the helm of Na Piarsaigh. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He’s now manager as the Limerick hurling championship commences this weekend and the demands on players due to the prolonged nature of the All-Ireland club championships are clear to him.

“It’s a very tough ask. I would have witnessed first hand the efforts that are going in by these players. There’s no other way to describe it other than being pushed to the limit. Throw on top of that lads on our panel having inter-county, Fitzgibbon Cup and everything.

“It’s made all the more difficult on the back of the defeat and in the circumstances going to a replay as well. It was only a few weeks ago and I did steer away from the players because it was all very raw. It’s a tough defeat. We’d a meeting there last Sunday week and we just had a good chat about it.

“When you take Na Piarsaigh and Nemo and Cuala and all those players who get stretched to the limit by the All-Ireland club series and then to (have to) turn around within a matter of weeks, it’s quite difficult.

“The players have been very good. There’s no doubt there’s a high level of mental fatigue and physical fatigue and all of that but by the same token we did talk about just getting to the end of this month and we’ll try to catch our breath a bit.

“Then there’s a big break from a club perspective but there is a lot of our guys going back training inter-county.”

Would the players favour the completion of the All-Ireland series in a calendar year rather than being placed in cold storage for a couple of months in the winter?

“I haven’t spoke to them at great length about it but I would suspect probably (they would),” said Beary.

“I feel with this there’s an inevitability about it that in everyone’s interest that it moves to a calendar year. In the fairness to all teams at all levels, it might just be able to spread the commitment on a more reasonable basis going forward.”

Mike Casey and Niall Buckley with Con O'Callaghan and Mark Schutte Na Piarsaigh and Cuala players battling for possession. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Outgoing boss Shane O’Neill informed the Na Piarsaigh club officials at Christmas that this would be his final season in charge. Beary agreed to take over while they were still operating in the All-Ireland series but it was only in the wake of the loss in O’Moore Park that his reign began.

Coach to the Limerick senior hurlers alongside TJ Ryan in 2014 and 2015, immersing himself in club matters is a natural move for Beary.

TJ Ryan celebrates with selector Paul Beary at the final whistle Paul Beary celebrates Limerick's 2014 Munster semi-final win over Tipperary with TJ Ryan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Na Piarsaigh is my home club and everything so it’s good to be back. I would have played for them all my life and actually my late father was a founding member back in ’68.

“The club is 50 years old this year and then I would have been involved in the Sean Stack time. I look after my young fella’s team as well, they’re U14 this year, I’m still sticking with that because I started with them. I’m kept going with the club the whole time.”

They won’t be able to call this Sunday on a couple of key figures from their recent run.

“David Breen is likely to be unavailable with his work commitments for the month of April,” said Beary.

“He’s at the business end of his season (as physio at Wasps). We’ve a couple other injuries as well. Peter Casey is likely to be out. He underwent some surgery post the All-Ireland club final that was being put off so he’s unavailable for the remainder of the month.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

Four Munster titles, an All-Ireland crown and participation in a thrilling two-game All-Ireland final saga in March have helped create the notion of Na Piarsaigh as a club hurling heavyweight on the national stage.

But they are mindful of the absence of back-to-back titles on their CV and the fact that Doon, next Sunday’s opponents, pushed them to the wire in the county semi-final last year.

“Locally we’re conscious of the fact that we do have only four titles,” said Beary.

“We’re well down the pecking order in terms of county titles. I get that we’ve come a long way but at the same time we haven’t done back-to-back and we’re still returning to ground zero at the start of every season and that’s the challenge.

“There’s a fine tradition between Doon and Na Piarsaigh over the last number of years both at underage level and at senior level. Last Sunday night actually in the U21 county semi-final, they dethroned Na Piarsaigh and Na Piarsaigh were going for seven-in-a-row. It’s a very, very tough opener for us.”

A new season shifts quickly into view and the challenges loom large.


Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

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Fintan O'Toole

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