Westside - Na Piarsaigh’s progress will have Loughmore players asking ‘what if’

No matter how much you achieve there are usually some nagging regrets that forever pinch at the memory.

No matter how much you achieve there are usually some nagging regrets that forever pinch at the memory.

Despite all they’ve won, 2010, I suspect, still grates on sensitivities down Kilkenny way.

The great Mick O’Dwyer has never been able to fully cope with that Seamus Derby goal. Toomevara’s greatest era is slightly clouded by the lack of an All Ireland. The list goes on.

And so, I suspect, the denizens of Loughmore and Castleiney watched a little uneasy on Sunday last as Na Piarsaigh swept to a near-record winning margin in the Munster club final. The Tipperary dual-champions made history this season but the ‘what ifs’ must have surfaced as they watched the Limerick champions cruise to victory at Ennis.

Na Piarsaigh ‘escaped’ the Loughmore trap on October 27 but to their credit they embraced their good fortune and have now an unblemished Munster club record after two campaigns. Not since 1975 when Blackrock walloped Mount Sion by nineteen points – scoring eight goals in the process – has there been a similar margin in a Munster decider. This was tour-de-force hurling as the Limerick champions hit goals at crucial times and were unrelenting even when the margin became uncatchable.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Sixmilebridge’s strenuous schedule of the past eight weeks caught up with them. There was much more bounce to Na Piarsaigh and as often happens in these affairs fortune favoured the brave – even the bouncy. One of the goals was robed in quality but the other three were in the avoidable category. The second goal immediately on resuming was probably the most critical of the four. The Limerick champs had a six point buffer at half time and on the restart Shane Dowling seemed to mis-hit a shot for a point. It dropped short of goal where a surprised Kevin Ryan with his back to the posts tried to bring it down and with the goalie wrong-footed it trickled in over the line. It was ‘a contender for goal-of-the-year’ and ‘superbly deflected’, according to one match report. Oh please, don’t embarrass the players, it was a lucky break – end of. There was no luck in the first goal, though. A marvellous little tap-shot from Shane Dowling put Kevin Downes through and the finish was unstoppable.

Those body blows one felt zapped the resolve from the ‘Bridge and the game was done and dusted by the time the other two majors were delivered.

Cathal King policed Niall Gilligan and for his efforts was given the man-of-the-match award. You could make a strong case for centre back, David Breen, also and the blocky Shane Dowling was hugely influential too.

There’s obvious quality in this team and we can claim a Tipperary association through Tommy Dunne whom Sean Stack has brought on board. Their semi-final now with Portumna promises to be a championship highlight. Two years ago the Limerick men were caught by Loughiel but there will hardly be any complacency facing the Galway men with their known pedigree in this championship.

In the meantime the Leinster final should be interesting. Mount Leinster Rangers have gained enhanced respect after their win over Ballyboden, though Oulart will still be the tipsters’ fancy. I hear the bookies in Carlow got stung badly by the semi-final outcome so I imagine the odds will be less generous this time. Add in the aspect that Wexford sides can be uncomfortable favourites and it furthers the intrigue surrounding this decider. Still I’d expect Martin Storey’s side to finally cross the line, maybe after a struggle.

Meanwhile the GAA’s ‘closed season’ is about to ‘open’ for Tipperary’s hurlers who this time can resume collective activity in December because of our early exit last summer. The gym work has been in full flow and now the hurling action resumes with a pair of challenge games featuring Laois and Wexford. Queen’s County men come to The Ragg on Saturday week, December 7, and Liam Dunne will bring his ‘Yellowbellies’ to Clonmel a week later.

I suspect I’m not alone in wondering about the wisdom of such games in the month of December, a time when the playing fields are closing down rather than re-opening. Presumably Eamon O’Shea sees some merit in getting back to action pre-Christmas but I must admit it escapes me. There is no official panel at the moment with everything in a state of flux, a scenario that presumably will remain until a league panel is formalised sometime in mid to late January. Actually there are several layers to the extended panel at present. On the one hand you have that new group of wannabes who’ve been enticed into winter programmes. Then there’s the group of seven or so from last year’s panel who’ve been politely moved aside. Potential – though reluctant – retirees make up another batch and thereafter there’s the remainder of last year’s panel.

In the meantime the debate goes on about the merits or otherwise of a whole host of players. Competitive action will resume in January with the Waterford Crystal. We play LIT at Nenagh in mid January and if successful head off to Kerry for a quarter-final a week later. If we get through there Waterford will be likely semi-final opponents. Forgive me if I can’t work up enthusiasm about this caper.

The ‘real’ season I suppose starts in February with the launch of the league. We’ll have Waterford at the Stadium under lights on February 15 and the provisional list of fixtures that I’ve seen involves three ‘home’ games and two ‘away’. We have to travel to Kilkenny once again and to Galway but Dublin and Clare will be visitors here.

Locally that abused child of the Association, the U21 grade, is braving the winter conditions once more. The North have found champions in Kilruane MacDonaghs after last week’s win over Burgess and the other three divisional finals, I think, are on the bill for next weekend, though with the South I’m never sure.

In the West Clonoulty and Cashel should serve up a useful engagement after wins over Arravale Rvs. and Kickhams respectively last weekend. Clonoulty are ever-strong at underage in the division and this is an important bracket for the King Cormacs who escaped senior relegation and will look to this crew to help keep them at the top level. In the Mid, Sarsfields versus Loughmore looks like a very attractive pairing. In the semis last week Loughmore had a lot to spare over Drom while Moycarkey ran Sars’ much closer. Down South it will be Swans versus St. Mary’s. The Carrick lads edged out Mullinahone while the Clonmel side had just a few to spare on Ballybacon. Check fixtures for details.