KEVIN Downes inspired Na Piarsaigh to yet another hard-fought victory in the AIB Munster senior club hurling championship this afternoon.
The Limerick star notched six points from play as Na Piarsaigh, provincial champions in 2011, advanced to a second final in three seasons.
There, they will face Cork champions Midleton or Clare representatives Sixmilebridge in a fortnight’s time.
In a humdinger at the Gaelic Grounds this afternoon, Na Piarsaigh dug out a two-point victory against Passage in a fixture watched by 1,350 spectators.
On an overcast afternoon, late points from Alan Dempsey and that man Downes settled a seesaw affair that was level eight times.
And for Na Piarsaigh manager Sean Stack, the nightmare scenario could now unfold if he’s pitted against his beloved Sixmilebridge in the final.
Midway through the second half, it appeared that Na Piarsaigh were on course for a comfortable win, after the Limerick kingpins opened up a five-point lead, 0-15 to 2-4.
They could have been further ahead too, but for a string of fine saves by brilliant Passage goalkeeper Eddie Lynch, who preserved a clean sheet.
At the other end, Na Piarsaigh conceded three goals and could have let in another had corner-forward Kevin Ryan not denied Eoin Kelly with a brilliant penalty save in the second half.
Former Waterford star Kelly had rattled the back of the Na Piarsaigh net with a first half penalty, after the full-forward was himself fouled.
Eoin Kelly celebrates Passage’s opening goal
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
That followed a fortuitous early goal for Owen Connors, as Na Piarsaigh goalkeeper Padraic Kennedy fumbled a speculative long-range effort into the net.
A third goal for Passage, in the 47th minute, was brilliantly finished from an acute angle by John Whitty, after Thomas Connors had created the opening.
Back to within a point, Passage were then level through sub Joe McClean and although Na Piarsaigh ensured parity again, two points from Owen Connors nudged a dogged Passage ahead.
In a gripping finish, the sides were level twice more but Na Piarsaigh, lining out without suspended full-back Kieran Breen, found the extra gear to claim victory, with Downes lofting over a sensational late score.
Passage can look back with huge pride on a landmark campaign that saw them capture a very first county title and they performed heroically again yesterday without county star Noel Connors, who is travelling abroad.
Na Piarsaigh’s David Dempsey and Kevin Downes with Mark Wyse and Stephen Mason of Passage
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Scorers for Na Piarsaigh: Kevin Downes 0-6, Shane Dowling 0-5 (0-3f), Pat Gleeson & Adrian Breen 0-3 each, Alan Dempsey, William O’Donoghue & Kieran Kennedy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Passage: O Connors 1-4 (0-2 65′s, 0-1f), Eoin Kelly 1-1 (1-0 pen), John Whitty 1-0, Killian Fitzgerald 0-2, Thomas Connors & Joe McClean 0-1 each.
NA PIARSAIGH: Padraic Kennedy; Niall Buckley, Cathal King, Michael Casey; Alan Dempsey, David Breen, James O’Brien; Shane Dowling, William O’Donoghue; Kieran Kennedy, Kevin Downes, David Dempsey; Kevin Ryan, Pat Gleeson, Adrian Breen.
Subs: Brian Hartnett for O’Brien (53), John Madden for Kennedy (53), Aidan Hennessy for Gleeson (60+1).
PASSAGE: Eddie Lynch; Jason Roche, Mark Wyse, Joseph Upton; Pa Walsh, Stephen Mason, Mitchell Baldwin; Killian Fitzgerald, John Whitty; Owen Connors, Conor Carey, Thomas Connors; Rory Walsh, Eoin Kelly, Sean Hogan.
Subs: Joe McClean for Walsh (47).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)