Na Piarsaigh had to dig deep to see off Slaughtneil by 3-15 to 3-08 to reach the All-Ireland final, writes Brian Barry from Parnell Park.
Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh came to Parnell Park this afternoon, with bookmakers believing all they had to do was show up, with prices of 1/50 for them to get through to the All-Ireland final.
However, Slaughtneil had clearly progressed as a team in 12 months, and the experience of their heavy defeat to Cuala at the same stage last year clearly stood to them. The win over Antrim champions Dunloy was a sign that they are a side on an upward curve, and they put it up to Na Piarsaigh right from the off today.
As the teams went point-for-point, it took a moment of magic from Derry star Brendan Rodgers, who stormed through the opposition defence before being dragged down. Cormac O’Doherty nailed the resulting penalty to put the Ulster champions 1-04 to 0-03 to the good.
However, the 2016 All-Ireland champions weren’t going down without a fight, and a goal from Conor Boylan levelled the tie.
Those who thought that Slaughtneil would lie down at this point were badly mistaken, as they hit 1-01 in quick succession to restore a four-point lead. Rodgers continued to cause problems for the Na Piarsaigh rearguard, as he broke in again before half-time, this time his shot was saved by Podge Kennedy.
Slaughtneil continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over, as they led 2-06 to 1-06 at the break.
Na Piarsaigh started the second half brightly, scoring two points via Ronan Lynch, but all changed utterly in the space of a minute as Conor Boylan and Tommy Grimes received red cards for separate incidents. The Limerick club were facing an uphill battle after being reduced to 13 men.
Na Piarsaigh then moved into a 2-11 to 2-06 lead, as Kevin Downes was played in behind the Slaightneil fullback line and he duly buried it in the net.
With 47 minutes gone, Peter Casey won a penalty, but Oisín O’Doherty stood up bravely to save the Ronan Lynch shot.
A simply outrageous Shane Dowling goal put real daylight between the teams with less than 10 minutes to go, and another Ronan Lynch free put them 3-13 to 2-08 up.
From there, they had the experience and class to see it out, despite the numerical disadvantage and a Slaughtneil fight-back.
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh:
Ronan Lynch 0-14 (0-10 frees, 0-01 65), Shane Dowling 1-00, Conor Boylan 1-00, Kevin Downes 1-00, Peter Casey 0-01.
Scorers for Slaughtneil:
Cormac O’Doherty 1-03 (1-00 penalty, 0-02 frees), Brian Cassidy 1-02, Gerald Bradley 1-00, Chrissy McKaigue 0-1, Meehaul McGrath 0-01, Brendan Rodgers 0-01.
Na Piarsaigh team:
1. Podge Kennedy
2. Jerome Boylan
3. Mike Casey
4. Niall Buckley
5. Alan Dempsey
6. Cathal King
7. Tommy Grimes
8. Ronan Lynch
9. William O’Donoghue
10. Adrian Breen
11. David Breen
12. David Dempsey
13. Conor Boylan
14. Kevin Downes
15. Peter Casey
Shane Dowling for Adrian Breen (half-time)
Kevin Ryan for David Breen (55th minute)
Kieran Kennedy for David Dempsey (56th minute)
Gordon Brown for Kevin Downes (59th minute)
1. Oisín O’Doherty
2. Paul McNeill
3. Sean Cassidy
4. Karl McKaigue
5. Shane McGuigan
6. Meehaul McGrath
7. Cormac McKenna
8. Éanna Cassidy
17. Mark McGuigan
10. Chrissy McKaigue
18. Conor McAllister
12. Gerald Bradley
13. Cormac O’Doherty
11. Brendan Rodgers
15. Brian Casey
Gareth O’Kane for Conor McAllister (49th minute)