Hurling is a game of fine margins. An entire game can be turned on its head in a matter of seconds. One point can be the difference between irrepressible joy and a crashing low. Shane Dowling is a man well aware of the danger of such margins.
You would think that for any Limerick hurler, 2018 would be remembered as the dream season. Especially for the forward who dragged them back into contention in the All Ireland semi-final against Cork and who scored a crucial goal in the final.
But Dowling was also the player who couldn’t break into the starting 15 after his extended run with Na Piarsaigh last year saw him miss a significant period of the National League. He remembers the “tough days” as vividly as winning the All Ireland final.
“It looks great for a finish, but it was a long summer. There were times there when you didn’t know if you were going to be playing or not. While it finished fantastic, there were a lot of tough days as well.”
“You go from two weeks previously being down in the dungeons, finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning because you know something’s happening, you want to be part of it and you’re not.”
“You’re on the panel but I’m on about game day. And things worked out brilliant. It ended up fantastically, both for me personally and for the county.”
The 25-year-old was almost close to also missing one of the biggest games of the season for his club, their semi-final against Na Piarsaigh back in February. His knee was causing him bother and the uncertainty of whether or not he would be able to play led him to despair.
“What happened there was the previous week on the Saturday we were in training and I broke down, my knee was giving me awful trouble. I left training crying with frustration, went up home into the shower and I said, ‘That’s it, I’m going to be out for next week’.”
“I met Shane O’Neill for lunch during the week and I said, ‘It’s like this, I either start and probably come off or wait to see if I come on or whatever’. That’s what we came up, it’d be better coming on than going off. Obviously, it worked out fairly well.”
“Sport is hilarious like. That Saturday you’re a hero, you’re great but the previous Saturday you’re crying above in the shower. The fine margins are unbelievable.”
That was the highest point Na Piarsaigh reached. The following month they were beaten in the All Ireland final replay by Cuala having had a chance to close out the initial game. Five months later and Limerick ripped up the script and beat all the top counties to lift the Liam MacCarthy. To go from one extreme to the other is something that Dowling describes as “mad”.
“It was the worst experience of my life in March, no two ways about it. I won’t talk about that because I still can’t and probably never will be (able to). I mean at that stage there, you think your sporting career is a disaster. You’ve a free 40 yards out in front of the goal to put your team four points up and it’s game over and you miss it. Then a penalty goes in the other end and you’re beaten in a replay. You just couldn’t write that stuff.”
“To go from that, literally an all-time low to five months later you’re at an all-time high. Sport is mad that way. The highs and lows are very, very close to each other. It was amazing the way it worked out. Would you have taken that club final if you knew what was going to happen five months later? You probably would. I was lucky enough to have one already and it was magic what happened. It’s something I always dreamed of. So it’s been a mad six months.”
All eyes have been on Na Piarsaigh since Cuala were sensationally knocked out of the Dublin championship last month. The Limerick side have ruled Munster for the past number of seasons but Sunday sees them face off against old foes, Ballygunner, in the provincial decider. For a team that have experienced such a rollercoaster season, no doubt they will be taking nothing for granted.
Shane Dowling was speaking ahead of the Munster Senior Hurling Club Championship Final where they face Ballygunner on Sunday, November 18th at Semple Stadium.
AIB is in their 28th season sponsoring the GAA Club Championship and will celebrate their 6th season sponsoring the Camogie Association. AIB is delighted to continue to support Senior, Junior and Intermediate Championships across football, hurling and camogie.