WHEN THE CHANCE came on the biggest day in the hurling year, Shane Dowling was ready to seize it.
In front of Hill 16 he gathered the sliotar in the 68th minute of the All-Ireland decider, stepped back inside the Galway cover and despatched his shot to the bottom corner of the net.
Limerick’s third goal of the afternoon had arrived and it had the look of a score that would secure a breakthrough after 45 years of hardship, as Dowling wheeled away in celebration and their fans exploded with joy around Croke Park.
It transpired to be a nervy ride to victory for Limerick as they had to withstand a late Galway onslaught but at the final whistle the Na Piarsaigh club man was an All-Ireland champion and had bagged the goal on final day that he desired.
“A fine bad pass it was from Peter as well, I can tell you,” laughed Dowling afterwards.
“The weird thing is I do an awful amount of visualising. I said it before in terms of free-taking, you can go down to Na Piarsaigh and you can practice your frees and your penalties, when you’re doing it on your own in front of no one.
“Then you come to Croke Park in front of 80,000 people, knowing there’s another three quarter of a million people or more probably watching it. I’m a huge believer in visualisation.
“I didn’t really sleep last night because I visualised scoring a goal on All-Ireland final day. Now it was a small bit more dramatic what I visualised than what happened but it was brilliant. After scoring a goal, to a certain degree it was probably crossing everyone’s mind, game over to go eight or nine points up with only a handful of minutes left.
“Now as it turned out that wasn’t the case. But it was dreams come true and when I say it, I mean it because I dreamt of that so many times.”
Dowling’s belief that victory was imminent was tested in those anxious moments in injury-time as Galway attacked relentlessly. Thoughts drifted back to another All-Ireland day when Limerick play a chief role in a tale of late drama.
“When Galway were in the comeback, it came across my mind and I spoke to a member of the management team and a number of players and I asked them one question, ‘Did ’94 go through your heads?’.
“And the answer from everyone was yes. It’s nothing go to do with us but it’s probably the most famous final and do you know what, today would have been worse. Listen it’s great we come out the other end of it smiling but isn’t it amazing how history that’s nothing got to do with anyone, that was so dramatic, is still there 24 years later. But I can tell everyone one thing for sure, that’s now put to bed forever.”
As the significance of the achievement began to sink in for Dowling, he was keen to tip his hat towards those that have helped mould him into an inter-county hurlers.
“I’m 25 years of age. I’ve won a county championship with my club, a Munster club, an All-Ireland club. I’ve won a Munster with Limerick and an All-Ireland with Limerick. To be able to say that at 25 years of age, coming from a county like Limerick that hasn’t been steeped in success when we were growing up, is just surreal really.
“I’ve said it before, it’s great for me, I’ll do the interviews and people will talk about Shane Dowling. But Shane Dowling wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for my father who took me out at six years of age and the lads that were in Na Piarsaigh since I was a young lad getting me ready for this day.
“As is natural, a lot of people would rang me during the week wishing me luck and my last words to some of them were how they could take great pride in knowing that you had a part to play in what’s going to happen on Sunday and I meant that.
“Everyone will tell you, they wouldn’t be there but for so many people. People say it and sometimes it can be a throwaway comment but I genuinely mean that. I’d be forever indebted to them but I’ve realised it a couple of years ago and now I’m trying to give something back to Na Piarsaigh to the underage as well and I get a great kick out of that as well, knowing that I’ll hopefully have a hand to play with the future for Na Piarsaigh and Limerick.”
Today was not the first time that Dowling launched a scoring salvo off the bench for Limerick. His 1-4 return in the semi-final win over Cork was eye-catching, as was his post-match plea for calm and composure before the final.
Now with the Liam MacCarthy Cup heading to Limerick, he has no insistence on restraint.
🏆🎉PARTY TIME 🏆🎉 It's been a long time coming, so Shane Dowling is calling on the Limerick fans to celebrate in style........ pic.twitter.com/cmlQsq5Qhu— Sky Sports GAA (@SkySportsGAA) August 19, 2018
“After the Cork game and I think it was funny like people might think we’ve talked about this hype thing. I just wanted this thing so bad, it came natural for me just to say leave the players focus.
“Then John (Kiely) said it inside and all of a sudden it became this thing. It was just that we wanted to try to get as many things right and for 65 minutes of that game, we nailed everything. But I suppose I asked people a couple of weeks ago to just leave the players focus and the supporters do their bit by leaving the players.
“But I can now ask the supporters and I’d give them one final message, let them go absolutely mental for the next number of months because we all deserve it.
“It’ll be madness tonight! But listen what can you do, Limerick have been waiting for 45 years so God knows what’s ahead of us in Citywest. But it’s brilliant.
“I swore to myself from a young age if I ever won an All-Ireland, I’d try my best to take it all in and while it’s not easy, that’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.”
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