By Mal Keaveney, [email protected]
EVER before a sliotar was pucked in the 2017 Credit Union sponsored Limerick Senior Hurling Championship, Kilmallock and Na Piarsaigh were on the shortlist for ultimate success.
And that is exactly the pairing that has come through to contest this year’s live televised (TG4) final at the Gaelic Grounds next Sunday 15, 3.30pm.
Although neither were involved in last year’s decider – won by Patrickswell against their fellow parishioners Ballybrown – Kilmallock and Na Parsaigh have been the kingpins of the senior championship here in recent years, both having advanced to win Munster Championships and in the case of Na Piarsaigh, an historic first All Ireland title for Limerick just two years ago.
The Limerick Championship is spilt into two groups of eight teams, with the top side in each progressing straight to the semi-final stage. As respective group winners, Kilmallock and Na Piarsaigh therefore didn’t need the bother, or some would argue the extra match time, of having to play in the quarter-finals, instead of contesting with those teams who finished in second and third places in Group A & B.
Sunday is a repeat of the 2014 final won by Kilmallock. The southerners progressed to clinch the Munster Championship and contest the All Ireland final at Croke Park the following St. Patrick’s Day. Kilmallock didn’t win at headquarters.
Twelve months later however, Limerick made the long awaited breakthrough at national level when Na Piarsaigh stormed to victory.
Ballybrown, Patrickswell and Kilmallock had all previously contested All Ireland finals but it took the new guns Na Piarsaigh to carry the county over the winning line.
Thomond College did win the All Ireland Club Football Championship for Limerick in 1978.
Idle for a while, Kilmallock had to wait an extra week for their semi-final outing with holders Patrickswell, after the ’Well needed a replay to advance past dogged Ballybrown.
In that semi-final, Kilmallock were full value for their 1-18 to 0-13 defeat of holders Patrickswell. A year earlier in a repeat fixture, the ’Well were winners but there was little, if any real doubt, about the outcome this time around. Eoin Ryan was the stand-out player with a huge contribution of 11 points for Kilmallock.
While Ryan is an impressive scorer, others well capable of contributing too are young Micheal Houlihan, the Mulcahys Graeme and Jake, Paddy O’Loughlin, Kevin O’Donnell and injury concern Oisin O’Reilly. Under 21 All Star Robbie Hanley, Dan Joy, skipper Liam Hurley, Paudie O’Brien, Gavin O’Mahony and goalkeeper Barry Hennessy are amongst the other leading lights for Kilmallock.
Na Piarsaigh were seriously tested by luckless Doon (who soundly beat Adare in the quarter-final) in their semi-final, before pulling through on a 2-18 to 2-14 scoreline. The win propelled Shane O’Neill’s side into a sixth final this decade and within striking distance of a fourth championship since they were first victorious in 2011.
It’s in sharp contrast with poor Doon, who have never made the breakthrough in Limerick and have contested just one final (2000) in their proud history.
Na Piarsaigh raced into a significant seven-point lead over Doon but led by just three points at the interval. That margin stood at only two entering the closing stages before the win was made safe with crucial late scores from the excellent Shane Dowling and William O’Donoghue. Dowling emerged with a total of seven points, the bulk of which came through his accuracy from dead-ball situations.
Under 21 ace Peter Casey, Kevin Downes, David Dempsey and Adrian Breen are others with proven scoring quality.
There is no shortage of star performers with Na Piarsaigh, including Mike Casey, Thomas Grimes, Cathal King, Alan Dempsey, David Breen and Kevin Ryan. On the bench too, the Ennis Road outfit look to have plenty of emerging talent.
Either Kilmallock or Na Piarsaigh will return as champions, but it will be interesting if either is capable of retaining their title, a feat not achieved since Adare were back-to-back winners almost a decade ago.
There hasn’t been a drawn final in a while, and the pointers here are towards a fierce close encounter on Sunday. Maybe, and only maybe, Na Piarsaigh might be too good for Kilmallock on this occasion.
Winners from Limerick will be at home to the Cork champions on November 5. That fixture will either be the Gaelic Grounds or Fitzgerald Park in Kilmallock, depending on the Limerick final outcome.
• Donnacha O’Callaghan (Feohanagh) will referee his first County Senior Final on Sunday.