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We're a city team so the words 'townies' and 'softies' are thrown at us a lot

Heart and hard work has brought Na Piarsaigh to another provincial decider, says Shane Dowling.

Na Piarsaigh and Limerick forward Shane Dowling.
Na Piarsaigh and Limerick forward Shane Dowling.
Image: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

LIMERICK SENIOR HURLING champions Na Piarsaigh will play in their third AIB Munster Club SHC final in five seasons on Sunday, and one characteristic of their performances en route to the decider has been particularly satisfying for Shane Dowling.

The Caherdavin side have plenty of stylish hurlers among their ranks but they’ve also developed a reputation as a side with a never-say-die attitude who are capable of grinding out big results when the chips are down.

They booked their place in this Sunday’s final against Waterford champions Ballygunner at Semple Stadium in Thurles (2pm) by coming from three points down at half-time to defeat Thurles Sarsfields at the Gaelic Grounds in last Sunday afternoon’s semi-final.

It was by no means the first time they’ve had to overcome a second-half deficit this season either. Na Piarsaigh trailed Sixmilebridge by nine points at the midway point of their AIB Munster Club SHC quarter-final on 25 October, and they were five in arrears against Patrickswell with 15 minutes of the Limerick decider remaining a fortnight earlier.

They haven’t been found wanting when it was time to stand up and be counted in a bid to keep their championship campaign alive. However, Dowling has warned his Na Piarsaigh team-mates that relying on late surges isn’t something they want to make a habit of.

“It was a good second-half performance,” said the Limerick forward, reflecting on Sunday’s defeat of Thurles Sars, to which he contributed a personal tally of 0-7.

“We were eating dinner afterwards and one of the lads turned to me and said, ‘I don’t know what we’ll do if we find ourselves in front at half-time’. Even in Limerick we seem to find ourselves behind. I don’t know why but I suppose it’s something we’re going to have to rectify.

“I was even saying when we went a point or two up, we had a couple of bad wides, bad choices. We just had four or five wides that were very uncharacteristic and if we do that the next day we might not get away with it. We were just lucky and we need to have a small bit of composure the next day.”

Shane Dowling celebrates winning Shane Dowling celebrates after Sunday's win over Thurles Sarsfields. Source: Conor Wyse/INPHO

Nevertheless, Dowling admits that his side’s willingness to dig deep has been pleasing: “Within Limerick there’d be a lot of pressure on us to perform and a lot of times we don’t, but when we get out of the county we just seem to express ourselves, as I suppose every club does when they leave their county. They can throw off the shackles a bit.

“We’re a city team so the words ‘townies’ and ‘softies’ are thrown at us a lot, but over the past number of years I think we have shown that although we can hurl, we have a bit of heart as well.”

Dowling added: “The thing I’m most happy with is it’s well-documented about us that we’re a good hurling side, but there’s nothing worse than people saying that they’re a good hurling side but when it gets thrown up to them they can shy away. That’s the most impressive thing from us this year; that we’re showing a lot of heart and a lot of hard work.

“It’s said about probably every city team in every county. It is what it is. Every city team is probably renowned for being a small bit soft. I don’t know why, that’s just what I seem to be learning. That’s the most impressive thing from our point of view; that we can grind out results as well and that’s very important at this time of year.”

Dowling expressed his admiration for Thurles Sarsfields, who played Sunday’s game just a fortnight after the death of their selector and trainer Jackie Griffin, who died tragically after being struck by a car.

“We were in the dressing room and Larry Hogan, our kitman, came around and put black tape around our arms as a mark of respect. I was thinking, ‘Can you imagine, when the black tape is going around the Thurles fellas’ arms, what they must be feeling?’ said Dowling.

“I was saying after the match that I only ever lost one person through a road traffic accident, who I only kind of knew and I still got some hit, so I can just imagine what they must have been going through over the past two weeks. Their training regime, everything probably went out the window.

inpho_00991471 The Na Piarsaigh panel pictured before their defeat of Thurles Sarsfields on Sunday. Source: INPHO/Conor Wyse

“It was very, very tough for them and listen, Munster Clubs, County Championships… sport is tiny when it comes to life, but that man’s family and the family of the driver whose car hit him – they’re going to find it difficult for the rest of their lives. Sport is very small compared to stuff like that.”

If Na Piarsaigh can maintain their unbeaten record in provincial competition, they’ll be AIB Munster Club SHC champions for the third time on Sunday afternoon. However, Dowling knows that Ballygunner will be seeking revenge for their semi-final defeat in 2011, when the Limerick side “caught them on the hop” at Walsh Park.

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Dowling: “We pulled away in the end but it’ll definitely be a different ball game the next day because they’ll know what to expect from us over the last couple of years; no different to we’ll know what to expect from them. They probably will want to get a bit of revenge because we went on to win it that year. They might have looked at it as one that got away.”

Dowling isn’t paying attention to Na Piarsaigh’s status as favourites for Sunday’s game. After winning their first Munster crown in 2011, they were taught a lesson in the All-Ireland semi-finals when they lost to Antrim champions Loughgiel Shamrocks at Parnell Park, with Dowling admitting that they “didn’t show Loughgiel enough respect at the time”.

Shane Dowling and David O'Sullivan Shane Dowling is tackled by David O'Sullivan during Na Piarsaigh's win against Ballygunner in 2011. Source: James Crombie

The 22-year-old forward said: “Listen – I know it’s a cliché — Paddy Power probably have us as red-hot favourites but I’ve said it before; Paddy Power has never played hurling because if he did, Thurles would be in the final and not us.

“I don’t pay too much heed to that because in 2011 we looked ahead of where we should have been looking and we got sent home with our tails between our legs in Parnell Park.

“If we’re beaten on Sunday, it certainly won’t be from looking ahead, it’ll be down to Ballygunner probably being better than us on the day.”

In fact, with the likes of Ballyhale Shamrocks and Portumna now out of the picture, Na Piarsaigh are the bookmakers’ favourites to go on and win the All-Ireland outright.

“All I can say is that because of what I said earlier on — 2011 versus Loughgiel Shamrocks — we have vowed to each other that under no circumstances will we look ahead. I’m not saying that as a cliché, that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Dowling said.

“It would be very easy to do that because, as you say, the heavy-hitters are out. But we’ve learned our lesson from 2011; just play it game-by-game.”

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