Sunday, 17th December 2017
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Na Piarsaigh halt Gunners

On Sunday last in Semple Stadium Thurles it was Limerick Senior Hurling Champions, Na Piarsaigh, who secured their place in the Munster Final on a 3-15 to 2-13 scoreline against Waterford kingpins Ballygunner. From the outset the Caherdavin outfit had been shortlisted for ultimate success at Provincial level and throughout their domestic and Munster campaign they confirmed this impression culminating in a huge win over Cork champions, Blackrock, in the semi-final.

Following the deferral of the Waterford championship due to the progress of the intercounty team to the All-Ireland final, Ballygunner, found themselves in the unenviable position of having games week on week to ensure a Waterford team could represent the county in the Munster competition. That said the Knockboy outfit did built some real momentum in winning the domestic title and then coming through tough encounters in the Munster Championship against both Thurles Sarsfields and Sixmilebridge.

Last weekend the Gunners faced a Limerick team who have won their previous three appearances in the Munster final and also achieved All-Ireland success in 2016. This was a daunting task facing the Gunners but bainisteoir Fergal Hartley and his management had the team in a very positive frame of mind. The Knockboy outfit were facing into the game without the services of the very influential Brian O'Sullivan who had been superb all year but likewise Limerick intercounty man Shane Dowling was unavailable for selection for Shane O'Neill and his Na Piarsaigh management.

Before a crowd of some three and a half thousand it was Ballygunner who won the toss and decided to defend the "country" end. Referee Rody McCann from Clare got proceedings underway and the Limerick outfit were first on the scoreboard as midfielder William O'Donoghue placed Adrian Breen for a point in the opening minute. A foul on Philip Mahony from the puckout saw the normally accurate Pauric Mahony just outside the posts. The threat of Na Piarsaigh very nearly culminated in a goal in the second minute as an effort from David Breen was blocked by Ballygunner keeper and Philip Mahony averted the danger. Corner forward had a superb point for Ballygunner in the third minute as he rounded his marker to score but a minute later Ronan Curran rounded Thomas Grimes for a point 02 to 0-1. Ballygunner were level on six minutes as a free from Pauric Mahony was short but David O'Sullivan collected and pointed.

The opening goal of this tough encounter came in the ninth minute as Gunners corner forward  Conor Power was first to react to a long delivery and as his marker Niall Buckley floundered the Ballygunner man was in on goal where he smashed past Padraig Kennedy to the net. Gunners ahead 1-2 to 0-2. Indeed with moisture on the top of the pitch many of the players were finding conditions very slippy and losing control of the ball was at times the "order of the day".

A Ronan Lynch free drifted wide as Conor Boylan was booked for a high tackle on Billy O'Keeffe in the 13th minute. Ace marksman Pauric Mahony was short with the free and Peter Hogan was just wide with the rebound. Another foul on Billy O'Keeffe, whose pace was causing the Na Piarsaigh all kinds of trouble, saw Pauric Mahony point from 50 metres 1-3 to 0-2. The Gunners were building momentum and were going into a period of dominance. However it would be imperative in such a low scoring game that they convert this dominance into scores. A superb block by Ian Kenny on Conor Boylan saw Stephen O'Keeffe clear for a 65 metre free which Ronan Lynch converted. Both teams were guilty of wides as Peter Hogan and Ronan Curran added to the count. Pauric Mahony was short with a free which was cleared but a David O'Sullivan run gave him the chance and he pointed. Again it was Ronan Lynch who answered for Na Piarsaigh and the score, despite Ballygunner dominance, saw just three poiunts between the sides 1-4 to 0-4.

In the 27th minute Limerick midfielder William O'Donoghue was wide with an effort and in the following minute both Pauric Mahony and Ronan Lynch were also off target with shooting chances. In the remaining minutes it was the Treatymen who added the scores. Peter Casey collected from Ronan Lynch and centre back Cathal King placed Adrian Breen for a point to leave just a single point between the sides at the brealk 1-4 to 0-6.

The second period began in a flurry of scores for Ballygunner. Pauric Mahony had a point within thirty seconds. Peter Hogan added another a couple of minutes later and when a superb Billy O'Keeffe effort, from out wide, sailed over it looked very much as though the momentum had swung back to Ballygunner. A number of silly fouls ensued but neither team could convert and when Peter casey added a point for Na Piarsaigh on thirty four minutes the lead was back to three points 1-7 to 0-7. The Ballygunner defence was finally breached in the 35th minute as Kevin Downes collected some thirty metres out from goal. He sent David Breen free and the centre forward crashed the ball past Stephen O'Keeffe to level 1-7 apiece. Adrian breen collected almost immediately and added the lead point for the Limerick outfit. A minute later Gunners goalkeeper Stephen O'Keeffe was called into action as Conor Boylan bore down on goal. Kevin Downes had a point and the momentum had again swung away from the Red and Blacks. An injury to Na Piarsaigh forward David Dempsey saw Kevin Ryan enter the play as William O'Donoghue was booked for retaliation. Peter Hogan brought the lead back to the minimum (1-9 to 1-8) as the conditions saw the referee called to hop the ball on numerous occasions.

In the 46th minute Conor Boylan edged Limerick two ahead as Ballygunner shot another free wide. Na Piarsaigh were three in front on 51 minutes as Adrian Breen converted from the right wing. Barry O'Sullivan replaced Shane Walsh in the Gunners lineup. Ronan Lynch and Kevin Downes had a point apiece either side of one from Billy O'Keeffe and the lead was out to four points 1-13 to 1-9.

On 58 minutes Ballygunner through Peter Hogan capitalised on a loose ball and the forward blasted to the net. We wonder could Ballygunner drive on for victory. The dream lasted barely thirty seconds as Na Piarsaigh through Conor Boylan goaled at the other end 2-14 to 2-9. Midfielder Ronan Lynch was yellow carded just before Billy O'Keeffe converted a long distance free for Ballygunner. However in the additional time that remained it was the Limerick champions who made all the running. Peter Casey added a point on 61 minutes and this was followed by another from Adrian Breen 2-15 to 2-10. Conor Sheahan replaced David O'Sullivan in the Gunners attack. Barry Coughlan received his marching orders just before the end and David Breen wrapped up the Na Piarsaigh win with a goal just before time. Despite a huge effort from Ballygunner it was Na Piarsaigh who reclaimed the O'Neill Cup on a 3-15 to 2-10 scoreline. Perhaps the margin of victory doesn't do justice to the Gunners effort as they were worth more than the one point lead at the break having been much the better team in the opening half. However Na Piarsaigh go on to a semi-final date in February and few would back against them going all the way.

Well done and commiserations to Ballygunner on a huge effort in 2017.

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