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'This day last week I broke down to tears in Na Piarsaigh' - from injury to All-Ireland semi-final win

Shane Dowling made his mark on his comeback for Na Piarsaigh.

TWO SATURDAY AFTERNOONS and the contrast in experiences for Shane Dowling was stark.

Shane Dowling scores a goal Shane Dowling hit the net for Na Piarsaigh yesterday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Last weekend he felt as if his injury woes had resurfaced again. Sidelined with a knee injury since last October’s county final, it looked as if his hopes of a comeback for Na Piarsaigh’s All-Ireland club semi-final had been scuppered.

And yet he was in a joyous mood on the Parnell Park pitch yesterday afternoon, sprung from the bench to set up a goal for Kevin Downes and strike a wondrous shot to the net himself as Na Piarsaigh fashioned an improbable success with 13 men.

Dowling revealed he was indebted to a man from Ballygunner, who they had defeated in the Munster club final, for helping oversee his rehabilitation throughout the last week.

“The knee was fine. It’s amazing what a week can do. This day last week I broke down to tears in Na Piarsaigh, I went for a warm-up and the knee didn’t hold.

“All credit and special thanks to Tadhg Sullivan who got a phone call at half eight Monday morning and saw me. He told me what it was and what I needed to do for the week.

“This day last week I didn’t think I was going to make it and that’s obviously why I didn’t start today, I didn’t think a full game was in me. But listen I got a half, I’m delighted I got through it and hopefully I might get two halves in Croke Park in five weeks time.”

Tadhg O'Sullivan and Shane Dowling Doctor Tadhg O'Sullivan and Shane Dowling at last November's Munster club final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Dowling’s moment of magic arrived in the 52nd minute as he supplied the third Na Piarsaigh goal that copperfastened their victory.

There was widespread praise for the strike.

“It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” remarked Na Piarsaigh captain Cathal King.

“You almost take yourself out of the match for a second to admire it and then you switch back in again. It was a fantastic goal. He’s capable of that at any stage. He’s an unbelievably talented hurler.”

“It wasn’t only the goal, I’d say he won every ball that he got,” stated Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O’Neill.

“He did something with it which just shows the class of him. The skill levels of him are just phenomenal. Nobody would get that goal on that pitch today except for Shane.”

Shane O’Neill at the final whistle Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O'Neill after the game. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It was great, we needed something to happen whether it was from me or someone else,” said Dowling.

“But you need a bit of luck as well, the ball was probably a millimetre from hitting the crossbar. But we got that bit of luck today.

“We needed something special to happen. We were lucky we got the two goals because we needed them.”

It was a curious performance from Na Piarsaigh. They were passive in the opening half and struggled to stamp their intent on the game but the dismissals of Conor Boylan and Thomas Grimes ignited a passionate display from the 13 men left on the pitch.

“In the first half we were very, very poor,” admitted Dowling.

“That’s no disrespect to Slaughtneil the intensity they brought was unbelievable. To see what we could do with 15 men and play like we did in the first half and compare to how we played with 13 men in the second half, that’s the most disappointing thing.

“They say when you win it papers over the cracks. There’s no hiding how bad we were were in that first half. If that was an All-Ireland final in Croke Park, I’m not so sure we’d have got away with it.

“It was incredible defending in the second half. For a finish they were obviously hitting short puckouts and every time they were launching ball into where everyone was and we were coming out with it. I thought they might change that up.

“We made a conscious decision that full-forward line, there’s no point killing yourself because you’re not going to get it. Leave them hit around the ’45 and the way the boys are playing in the second half, they really upped the ante and seemed to come out with ball after ball.”

Still the victory propels them towards a second All-Ireland final in three years. They are accustomed to the pain of semi-final losses in 2012 and 2014. Dowling was reminded of that defeat six years ago when he was congratulated after yesterday’s game by Liam Watson, the Loughgiel destroyer of Na Piarsaigh with a stunning haul of 0-16.

“That was Liam Watson there, the man who broke our  hearts. Them northern boys, they probably don’t get the credit they deserve.

“They mightn’t have the skill other counties have but by God have they got heart and character. We knew Slaughtneil would bring that today and they did. Semi-finals on heavy pitches, smaller pitches, it’s a different ball game.

“It’s great, semi-finals are there to be won and learn from them and we need to learn.”

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Watch: Shane Dowling scores blistering individual goal on return from injury

13-man Na Piarsaigh launch brilliant comeback against Slaughtneil to reach All-Ireland final

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Fintan O'Toole

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