Loughmore-Castleiney bowed out of the AIB Mundter Club senior hurling quarter-final in dramatic style at Semple Stadium, Thurles last Sunday, Limerick champions Na Piarsiagh grabbing a 59th minute goal to deny the Tipperary champions what would have been a memorable victory.
It was a heart-breaking defeat for Loughmore-Castleiney who were a man short after only four minutes, two down after thirty three minutes and yet looked like powering their way to the semi-final against Passage of Waterford until disaster struck them with time running out.
Though defeat was their lot, this was an epic performance by the Tipperary champions who looked set to defy all the odds until David Dempsey pounced for Na Piarsaigh’s third goal with a minute to go, after Loughmore goalie Shane Nolan had brilliantly stopped an initial effort from Kevin Downes.
Having had fullback Derek Bourke red-carded after only four minutes in an off-the-ball incident involving Na Piarsaigh’s Kevin Ryan, Loughmore were knocked out of their stride as Na Piarsaigh took full advantage to run up a 0-6 to 0-4 lead playing into the breeze. Forced to reshuffle their side, with David Kennedy moving back from attack to centre halfback, and John Meagher dropping back to man the number three spot, it took Loughmore some time to adjust but a brilliant second quarter completely changed the complexion of the game.
With Noel McGrath once more an inspiring figure, ably supported by John Meagher, Liam McGrath and David Kennedy, they carried the fight to the Limerick champions with enormous vigour and class in the closing ten minutes of the first half, turning a three point deficit (0-5 to 0-8) into a six points interval advantage, 1-11 to 0-8.
In that period coming up to the break they registered seven scores without reply, the crucial one being Liam McGrath’s expertly taken goal in the 26th minute when he skilfully took Noel McGrath’s pass to score a goal reminiscent of that scored by him in the county final. Liam also pointed two frees to supplement other points from Noel McGrath (2), Ciaran McGrath and John McGrath.
Loughmore-Castleiney got a huge boost at the start of the second half when Cian Hennessy netted following a Liam McGrath free and Hennessy then whipped over a point to put his side ten points clear after 32 minutes.
A minute later, after Kevin Downes took a William O’Donoghue delivery in his stride to blaze past Shane Nolan, Willie Eviston was red-carded for an indcident involving David Dempsey of Na Piarsaigh. Down to thirteen men with twenty seven minutes to play, Loughmore’s defiance showed in a wonderful sideline cut over the bar by Noel McGrath but Na Piarsaigh began to turn the screw. David Breen pointed, David Dempsey netted, Adrian Breen and sub Pat Gleeson pointed to cut the lead to two points as Na Piarsiagh momentum built up with four scores in four minutes.
Loughmore were not about to wilt. A brace of Noel McGrath frees and another from Liam McGrath in the space of five minutes had them five points clear again at the start of the last quarter.
With the two extra men stretching Loughmore to the limit, Na Piarsaigh shot four points between the 47th and 52nd minute to get back within a point of their rivals (2-15 to 2-16) as the 1,642 attendance rose to an absorbing contest.
Once more Loughmore-Castleiney showed their mettle. Noel McGrath pointed a great free from an acute angle and then Na Piarsaigh’s Kieran Breen was shown a red card for a tackle on Liam McGrath in the 54th minute. Four minutes later Kevin Downes pointed for Na Piarsaigh and then tragedy for Loughmore in the 59th minute as David Dempsey was on hand to flash the rebound of Kevin Ryan’s shot past a helpless Shane Nolan for a two points lead for the Limerick men.
Could Loughmore pull it out of the fire? Noel McGrath was off target with a long-range free but at the beginning of injury time he pointed a free and the Mid side were still on the attack when Na Piarsiagh were awarded a free inside their own half which Shane Dowling sent all the way between the posts from almost 100 metres to seal their win.
Na Piarsaigh – P Kennedy; N Buckley, K Breen, M Casey; C King, D Breen(0-1), J O Brien(0-1); S Dowling(0-5,4fs), A Dempsey; W O Donoghue(0-1), K Downes(1-2), D Dempsey(2-1); K Kennedy(0-1), K Ryan(0-2), A Breen(0-1); Subs- P Gleeson(0-2) for K Kennedy; D Quigley for A Breen; B Hartnett for Casey;
Loughmore-Castleiney – S Nolan; T Long, D Bourke, L Egan; W Eviston, J Meagher, T King(0-1); C McGrath(0-2), T McGrath; J McGrath(0-1), D Kennedy, L McGrath(1-3,0-3fs); E Sweeney(0-1), N McGrath(0-9, 5fs), C Hennessy(1-1); Subs- M Webster for Hennessy; T Campion for Long;