Na Piarsaigh fight back to beat Slaughtneil in Club SHC semi-final

Na Piarsaigh substitute Shane Dowling celebrates his spectacular goal in the 52nd minute which put seven points of daylight between the Munster kingpins and the Ulster champions in Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship final Picture by Philip Walsh
Brendan Crossan at Parnell Park

AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) 3-15 Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil (Derry) 3-8

THERE are just some cliff faces the Slaughtneil hurlers can’t yet scale – but they’re getting closer to reaching the All-Ireland summit.

They absorbed the lessons from the beating they took at the hands of eventual champions Cuala last year. And they will learn from Saturday’s semi-final defeat to Munster kingpins Na Piarsaigh.

If you’re learning, you’re never really beaten.

The Derry men left Parnell Park in north Dublin with plenty of regrets but this semi-final defeat wasn’t nearly as demoralising as 12 months ago.

On Saturday, Slaughtneil made a joke of the bookmakers’ odds and even though they’d lost a second successive All-Ireland semi-final, they will feel they belong at hurling’s top table.

Leaning against the corridor walls outside the changing rooms, Slaughtneil boss Michael McShane insisted: “It’s a game we could have won and maybe should have won, but we didn’t.”

Slaughtneil led 2-6 to 1-6 at half-time.

They had Na Piarsaigh on the ropes for most of the first half with the Limerick men struggling to live with the intensity the Ulster champions brought to this pulsating semi-final.

And, for most of the second half, Slaughtneil had a two-man advantage.

But they couldn’t make it count.

When forward Conor Boylan and defender Tommy Grimes were rightly red-carded in the 33rd and 35th minutes, respectively, Slaughtneil couldn’t unpick the Na Piarsaigh rearguard.

“In the second half the game took a real twist,” McShane said. “They had two players sent off and for some absurd reason it didn’t work for us.

“You’d think with two extra men it would work to our advantage but it didn’t because it made no difference to their defence. Give Na Piarsaigh credit because our inside line was totally on top in the first half. We were getting a lot of mileage out of our inside line.

“But they tightened up in the second half. Sometimes players stand back and wait for the other person to tackle [when the opposition lose players to red cards].

“Look, it didn’t work for us and I have to take some of the blame, and I will.

“It’s just very disappointing because it was a great opportunity. Strangely enough if the game had stayed 15 against 15 I think we might have won it.”

Momentum is absolutely everything in hurling.

Na Piarsaigh managed to put a nightmare first half behind them and not even two dismissals could stop their dramatic second-half ascent.

“In my managerial career I’ve never been more frustrated [than at half-time],” said victorious Na Piarsaigh boss Shane O’Neill.

“We didn’t play at all, we didn’t do anything that we set out to do.

“We lost all the 50-50s, all the breaking ball, and if Slaughtneil had taken a few of their scores they could have been six or seven points up at half-time.

“They’d some bad wides and we weren’t in the game at all. But the fact we were only a goal behind we were always in touch. And then we got two or three points [at the start of the second half].”

Leadership, composure and work-rate, O’Neill said, were the three elements his players brought to the second half of Saturday’s semi-final clash – and, of course, the indomitable figure of Shane Dowling.

Sidelined for three months with a bad knee injury, Dowling entered the fray at the restart and was absolutely immense.

“Shane has hands of God,” said Na Piarsaigh full-back Mike Casey.

Dowling’s first divine act came in the 41st minute when he fetched a long puck-out from ‘keeper Podge Kennedy before off-loading to Kevin Downes who blasted to the net to give Na Piarsaigh a commanding 2-11 to 2-6 lead.

Eleven minutes later, Dowling produced the most outrageous piece of skill you’ll see this year.

He charged down Slaughtneil goalkeeper Oisin O’Doherty’s attempted clearance, flipped the sliothar over a Slaughtneil defender and batted it over the heads of everyone before it rippled the net.

Dowling’s stupendous major put Na Piarsaigh 3-12 to 2-8 ahead. It was game over at that point despite Gerald Bradley firing home in stoppage-time.

And yet, Slaughtneil’s afternoon started so brightly.

Inside men Brendan Rogers and Brian Cassidy were unmarkable in the first half.

Rogers was hauled down by Mike Casey in the 17th minute and Cormac O’Doherty buried the penalty as Slaughtneil forged ahead 1-4 to 0-3.

Gerald Bradley and Shane McGuigan should have stretched the Ulstermen’s lead before midfielder Ronan Lynch replied with one of his 11 converted placed balls of the day.

In the 22nd minute, Conor Boylan escaped the clutches of Slaughtneil full-back Sean Cassidy to power home and level the tie (1-4 apiece).

But, to Slaughtneil’s eternal credit, they came firing back again.

Rogers, untouchable in the opening half hour, collected Cormac O’Doherty’s high ball before setting up Brian Cassidy who finished to the net.

But, for all of Slaughtneil’s first half dominance, they didn’t make it count on the scoreboard – and they would pay the heaviest price in the second period.

Strangely, Na Piarsaigh were galvanised by suffering two red cards.

In the 33rd minute, Boylan hit out at Shane McGuigan after an untidy tangle and was red-carded on the advice of the linesman.

Two minutes later, Grimes lashed out at Gerald Bradley and walked.

These were two belligerent acts that suggested Na Piarsaigh weren’t going to be bullied for two halves in-a-row.

They made light of going down to 13 men and showed what champions are made of, hitting 1-5 without reply after the interval.

Even though Slaughtneil kept their extra men in defensive positions they still couldn’t contain Na Piarsaigh attacker Shane Dowling.

They also fouled too readily which allowed Ronan Lynch to convert 11 placed balls – one of which was a ’65 after Oisin O’Doherty saved his penalty effort.

This year’s All-Ireland decider promises to be some game between the 2016 winners Na Piarsaigh and defending champions Cuala.

Slaughtneil have still some road to travel – but it’s at least getting shorter.

Na Piarsaigh (Limerick): P Kennedy; J Boylan, M Casey, N Buckley; A Dempsey, C King, T Grimes; R Lynch (0-14, 0-10 frees, 0-1 ‘65), W O’Donoghue; A Breen, D Breen, D Dempsey; C Boylan (1-0), K Downes (1-0), P Casey (0-1)

Subs: S Dowling (1-0) for A Breen (h-t), K Ryan for D Breen (55), K Kennedy for D Dempsey (56), G Brown for K Downes (60)

Blood sub: K Kennedy for T Grimes (24-25)

Yellow cards: M Casey (16), N Buckley (61)

Red cards: C Boylan (33), T Grimes (35)

Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil (Derry): O Doherty; P McNeill, S Cassidy, K McKaigue; Shane McGuigan, M McGrath (0-1), C McKenna; E Cassidy, M McGuigan; C McKaigue (0-1), B Rogers (0-1), G Bradley (1-0); C O’Doherty (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees), C McAllister, B Cassidy (1-3)

Subs: G O’Kane for C McAllister (49),

Yellow cards: P McNeill (49), M McGrath (55)

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow)

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