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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Shane's Cuala pain ...

Dowling lost for words over club final loss to double champs - even after Limerick's glory

Shane Dowling is focusing on Na Piarsaigh’s Munster Senior Hurling Club Championship Final showdown with Ballygunner on Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile
Shane Dowling is focusing on Na Piarsaigh’s Munster Senior Hurling Club Championship Final showdown with Ballygunner on Sunday. Pic: Sportsfile

Shane Dowling is never short of a word. An All-Ireland winner, for club and now county, who could also talk for Ireland. Except on one issue.

The AIB All-Ireland club final saga of last March left its mark on the usually loquacious Limerick hurler.

Na Piarsaigh had one hand and another four fingers on the Tommy Moore Cup on March 17, only to be snared deep in stoppage time by Seán Moran's equalising goal for Cuala.

Onward to extra-time, where the holders from Dalkey again secured parity at the death. Then onto a Portlaoise replay, where Na Piarsaigh launched a stirring comeback only to be leapfrogged in the dying minutes.

"I don't think I'll ever be able to speak about that," Dowling now admits, almost eight months later.

"I don't know why, it's just something I can't get over. It took me a while, and Limerick was probably the best thing, to be honest. If we had to go back into club hurling..."

This being the ever-effusive Dowling, even when he's struggling to speak he still etches a vivid picture of the pain involved. "I just took it very tough," he remembers, "so going back in with everyone (at county level) was like a breath of fresh air, the best thing that was there.

"Funny enough, you say you'd want a couple of months off, if I'd a couple of months off, I'd had driven myself mad by my own thoughts.

"You go with Limerick, they're at a different level of training, so we'd a good number of weeks to get up to that level. You could have felt sorry for yourself, but you could be sitting on the bench or sitting in the stand, so ultimately it didn't take too long."

Na Piarsaigh had become the first Limerick winners of the All-Ireland club SHC in 2016. Fast-forward to last July and August, when Dowling's super-sub exploits - against Cork, then Galway - played a pivotal role in the end of Limerick's 45-year Liam MacCarthy famine. All of which means he's among that special breed who have won history-making All-Irelands for club and county.

Yet the treadmill never stops. Once county celebrations had subsided, Na Piarsaigh set about completing what they had never done before - back-to-back Limerick titles.

Record-equalling

And now - after crushing Clonoulty-Rossmore, thus preserving their unbeaten provincial record - they travel to Thurles on Sunday chasing a record-equalling fifth Munster club title, all in the one decorated decade.

Arch-rivals Ballygunner stand in their way. Dowling insists he'll be fit to face the Waterford kingpins, despite his semi-final exit after his troublesome shoulder popped out.

Yet, as he mulls over his recent schedule, you get the picture that mental fatigue, not physical trauma, is the biggest obstacle facing Na Piarsaigh's county trailblazers.

"Victims of success is probably the wrong choice of words but I know where you're coming from," he says.

"We went back hurling with Limerick in November '16. That went through to July '17, 'til Kilkenny beat us. Then we were straight back in with Na Piarsaigh 'til March 18. Straight back in with Limerick 'til after the All-Ireland. Straight back in with the club now. So that's two years on the trot with a week here, two weeks there.

"It's not easy. Definitely you'd love a couple of months off. But you love success more. All it's going to do ultimately is probably shorten careers. If you're consistently on the road for a long number of years, it's not going to be possible to stay going. But we're a driven club, a driven county."

For now, Dowling is happy in the knowledge that success hasn't changed them. "I spoke to John (Kiely) after the final, he said, 'One thing you can be damn sure of is this win isn't going to change me.' I said, 'John, I second that, it's not going to change me.'

"And his speech on the bus from Croke Park, when we got near to the CityWest, he more or less echoed the same thing. He said, 'This success better not change anyone, you're still who you are, you've won something that's huge and we've huge respect here and we have to carry that respect everywhere we go.' And I think people tuned in to that straight away.

"We're a very young team so it'd be very easy to get carried away, doing stuff that might get you in trouble. But it hasn't happened and I can nearly guarantee you it won't."

But what about two-in-a-row?

"I'll worry about back-to-backs in 2019. For now I'm going to enjoy everything. I couldn't give a hoot about 2019 for now."

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