Na Piarsaigh Captain Cathal King – “The absence last year makes you want it more”.
Na Piarsaigh captain Cathal King has done it all at club level, in the 15/16 season he led his side to a historic All-Ireland club championship final victory over Cushendall at Croke Park. It was the culmination of a huge amount of effort as the side had to maintain sharpness and fitness all the way through from their 2015 Limerick club championship to the St Patrick’s Day showpiece at GAA head quarters.
The astounding campaign was followed up by an underwhelming show in the county championship last time out as they failed to exit the group stages. This year has been a different story as Na Piarsaigh are back on the big stage, having negotiated the group stage and semi final to book their spot in Sunday’s showdown with Kilmallock.
King says the disappointment of last year drove the side on coming into the new campaign.
“The absence last year makes you want it more. Even sitting in the Gaelic grounds watching the county final last year, you realize what a big occasion it is for you and for the club. We’re back exactly where we want to be and where we’ve been aiming to get since the winter break.”
The two finalists have dominated the county senior hurling scene over the past seven years, with six titles between them. The last county final decider between the sides went the way of Kilmallock in 2014 on a 1-15 to 0-14 scoreline. King says there’s a mutual respect between the sides, and expects a tough battle against The Balbec.
“We’ve played each other for nearly three or four years in a row and last year they put us to the sword in the group stages. There’s a great mutual respect there between the two teams. We do know each other well, there is much of the same players there still about over the past few years. Every match has been first of all a great game of hurling but also a battle there’s been no match has been easily won.
“As a hurler, even as a supporter you’d be looking forward to this match as being a great match of hurling and something that will be very hard won. (We expect) Just pure doggedness and mental strength. They’re a well-seasoned and always well-prepared team, they really put it up to you they’re incredible battlers.”
Despite the threat that Kilmallock will pose to Na Piarsaigh’s desire to make it back to the top of the club hurling scene, King is adamant that the preparation for the game will be no different to any other championship contest this year.
“We concentrate on ourselves, we look at our own weaknesses and we try and strengthen the areas that we feel need strengthening. You look at other teams game by game in terms of little bits of tactics here and there but for the most part training is working on your weaknesses and turning them into strengths.”
There’s no doubting that this year’s final will whet the appetite of the neutrals, as the undisputed powerhouses of recent times in the county senior championship lock horns. Success and consistency need to be maintained and in order to do that, a regular flow of talent needs to be coming through from the under age programs.
It should then come as no surprise that the Ennis Road club have claimed the last six u21 Limerick club championships, underlining their commitment to underage development while also laying down a marker that this team are here to stay.
King believes that both clubs’ ability to keep young talented hurlers coming through the ranks is a major factor in the success that the two have had over recent years.
“It’s a credit to both clubs that they’ve kept interest there in the hurling and that they’ve developed players underage and kept them as well. A lot of clubs can tend to some lose players when they make it to the senior ranks. There’s a love for hurling in both club among the lads that are involved, there’s a love to get down to be training together, to be as a group together and doing what they love.”
While there is no doubt that this is a club and a captain with huge ambitions, not just to retake the Limerick Senior Hurling Championship, but also another All Ireland crown, King is not looking past Sunday’s showpiece at the Gaelic Grounds.
“You don’t really think about it and it was the same that year the goal was to win county. It’s very much an afterthought the goal for us will always be to win Limerick county championships and everything after that is a bonus.”