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'It's actually crazy when you think of where we were' - the rise of Na Piarsaigh

Manager Shane O’Neill knows well how far the Limerick club have journeyed.

Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O'Neill celebrates with defender Niall Buckley.
Na Piarsaigh manager Shane O'Neill celebrates with defender Niall Buckley.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

TO APPRECIATE THE scale of the Na Piarsaigh rise to prominence, Shane O’Neill allows his mind to wander back to the turn of this decade.

He may be manager now of a team who continue to relentlessly stock up trophies – on county, provincial and national stages – but for O’Neill the memories are still fresh of a different time for the Limerick club.

In 2009 he was a player as they reached the county senior hurling final for the first time. They amassed a paltry total of 0-3 that afternoon in the Gaelic Grounds.

Na Piarsaigh were a beaten docket long before the final whistle sounded and Adare had created a 17-point gulf between the teams. Five survivors from that game played some part in yesterday’s Munster final success in Thurles – Podge Kennedy, David Breen, Kevin Downes, captain Cathal King and Kevin Ryan.

Then 2011 kick-started the good times, O’Neill catching success at the tail end of his playing career when they hoisted silverware for the first time in Limerick.

There’s been no sense of that run halting since with yesterday their ninth major trophy – four Limerick, four Munster and one All-Ireland.

Are they pinching themselves in their Caherdavin base at the meteoric rise to prominence?

Kevin Downes and Cathal King celebrate Na Piarsaigh's Kevin Downes and Cathal King. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s more than pinching we have to do,” laughed O’Neill.

“It’s actually crazy when you think of where we were just trying to win our first county title just six years ago.

“Up to 2011 we were trying so hard just to break through in the county but what has happened over the last six or seven years, it’s crazy really.

“To have four from four is an incredible record. It’s a phenomenal achievement. The only other club we’re behind now is Blackrock, who are one of the greatest teams ever to play be it at county or club level.

“For our guys to be only one behind them and to win as much as we’ve won since 2011 just shows how ambitious these guys are.”

They had an eight point cushion to rely on at the final whistle but this was no easy stroll to success for Na Piarsaigh. Two injury-time goals inflated their eventual winning margin after a game where a sturdy Ballygunner rearguard proved hard to unlock for long stages.

“We were worried (at half-time) because we hadn’t played to be honest with you,” recalled O’Neill.

“We found their style of play and the structure that they bring difficult because we haven’t come across that element. They’re extremely well drilled in what they do.

“They’re very defensive initially and they try to catch you on the break then in the middle third. Some of the clubs in Limerick are trying to do it now but they’ve been doing it for a number of years.

Alan Dempsey and manager Shane O'Neill celebrate Na Piarsaigh's Alan Dempsey and Shane O'Neill celebrate their victory. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“In the second half we went back to what we hadn’t been doing in the first half as we said we would do. The boys dug deep in the second half when Ballygunner got the first three points of the second half.

“Then questions were asked. We took over after that. I thought we were really good and that is just a reflection of the group.

“With ten minutes to go I turned to the management and said, ‘This is just a phenomenal championship match that’s going on here’. We finished very strongly in the end, definitely the scoreline flatters us.

“There was a lot let go. The referee didn’t blow for much. It was let flow and I suppose in the first 20 minutes we didn’t bring a physicality that we thought we would bring but after that then we actually brought much more physicality to the thing and it suited us.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

5 talking points after Na Piarsaigh reign in Munster and Ballygunner suffer again

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Fintan O'Toole

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