After beating rivals Kilmallock comfortably in the Limerick SHC final, Na Piarsaigh were installed as favourites to win the All-Ireland club title – and repeat the success of 2015.
A Munster semi-final date with Blackrock awaited them at the Gaelic Grounds, despite the Rockies losing the Cork final. The fact that the loss came against divisional side Imokilly, the famous city club represented the Rebel county in Munster.
It had the potential to be a classic: Na Piarsaigh came into Sunday’s game unbeaten in the provincial championship – winning the competition all three times they have competed this decade, while the visitors from Cork, are the only side to win the Munster club championship five times.
What should have been two giants going toe-to-toe, ended up being a surreal mis-match.
Na Piarsaigh had 22 points to spare after 60 minutes of painfully one-sided hurling. In this win, the team from the northside of Limerick city showed why they are rated among the best teams in the country.
While Ballygunner and Cuala also had impressive Sunday wins over quality opposition, the nature of this performance cannot be understated.
Missing talisman Shane Dowling, Ronan Lynch stepped up, slotting 0-15. Fifteen points for an u-21 player in a Munster semi-final – including a point from a sideline cut and three from play.
Goals from current Limerick forward Peter Casey and former Limerick forward David Breen within a minute of each other put the game to bed mid-way through the opening half.
Then there were the likes of Mike Casey and Tommy Grimes in defence. Both players won All-Ireland u-21 medals with the Shannonsiders in recent years while Grimes’ partners in the half-back line Cathall King and Alan Dempsey have played senior hurling with the Treaty.
Kevin Downes, who was a stand-out performer in the county final was a bit quieter in this game but was still a handful for the Rockie defence.
With so much talent, it is going to be so hard to beat this Na Piarsaigh side.
That isn’t to underestimate the challenge of Ballygunner in the provincial final, but having had such a hectic schedule over the last two months, it will be tough to overcome the Limerick side.
After plaing championship matches in each of the last eight weeks, the Waterford men have a much-needed Sunday off as they prepare for this huge test.
And a huge test it is. Unbeaten now in all ten games in the Munster club SHC in the club’s history, Na Piarsaigh have beaten so many big names. Teams like Thurles Sarsfields, Sixmilebridge, Loughmore and even Waterford champions Ballygunner in the final in 2015 tried and failed to stop the Limerick city men.
Looking to win an incredible fourth provincial title this decade, Na Piarsaigh are without a doubt the team to beat. That seven-point reversal two years ago will motivate a Ballygunner side who are certainly good enough to be Munster champions but they will have to be at 100 percent if they are to have any chance.
With so much talent, Na Piarsaigh have so many players who can step up on the big day.
It was Adrian Breen who hit 0-06 in the county final, before Peter Casey scored 1-03 from play on Sunday, while Lynch hit 0-15.
But come Munster final day, it could be David Breen, Alan or David Dempsey or big midfielder Will O’Donoghue who stand out for Shane O’Neill’s side.
With nine different scorers in the win over Blackrock, including county u-21 panelist Conor Boylan, Na Piarsaigh can attack from all over the field.
Having over-powered 2015 All-Ireland finalists Kilmallock and Munster club roll of honour leaders Blackrock in their last two outings, Na Piarsaigh are a team in a good run of form.
Sure Ballygunner are playing great hurling and Cuala are going strong, however, it is the Limerick men who are the team to beat as the club championship enters and exciting latter stages as only the elite teams remain.
And of the elite, Na Piarsaigh are the ones who are best placed to win a second All-Ireland title, come St Patrick’s Day.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we discussed whether anyone can stop Na Piarsaigh and we hear from Wexford camogie star Mags D’Arcy