Dowling hoping to ride another winner
16 Nov 2018
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Why have cotton when you can have silk?
That was on the mind of a roguish Shane Dowling a couple of years ago, around the time he helped Na Piarsaigh to the AIB All-Ireland glory against Cushendall in 2016. The powerful forward was hanging out with a jockey friend of his, and what he formed was a cunning plan.
“I was at the Hurling for Cancer charity, and Mark Enright is a good buddy of mine,” says Dowling with a smile. “We ended up going back to Bryan Cooper’s house, who was a retained rider for Michael O’Leary at the time.
“He had his silks on the bannister and we were going back to stay in Mark’s house, and I robbed the silks. What I meant to do was on the Friday after we won the club final in 2016, the plan was to get the silks and bring them down to the club as the Gold Cup was going on.
“Don Cossack was a fancied horse that Bryan was riding, and he ended up winning the race. It would have been absolutely brilliant if I had been in the club pretending to ride the horse with the silks on. But I ended up leaving the silks at home!
“The following day or two, Mark Enright rang me when they were on the way to racing, and he had two people in the car: one of them was Bryan Cooper. I says, ‘Jesus, Bryan, congratulations on winning the Gold Cup the other day.’ He says ‘Aye, congratulations to you too on your success, and by the way, you might give me back them colours when you get a chance!’”
There will be a splash of blue across Dowling’s chest this Sunday when Na Piarsaigh take on Ballygunner, looking to win a fifth AIB Munster title, and become the first club to retain the crown since St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield in 1998-99.
Change has been afoot in Caherdavin. Shane O’Neill has been replaced as manager by Paul Beary, former Limerick captain David Breen is unavailable, while Niall Buckley is another from the All-Ireland club final team of early 2018 who did not start recently against Clonoulty-Rossmore. William O’Donoghue and Ronan Lynch have moved into defence, while Gordon Brown and Conor Boylan have been promoted from the bench.
“David Breen is too busy doing other things,” says Dowling with a mischievous grin. “William is gone from midfield to centre-back, and Gordon Brown has gone to midfield. Kieran Breen, our full-back, has retired so Mike Casey has gone in there. I’m gone to centre-forward, so there has been a couple of big changes: three, six and eight.
“But if we think we’re bad, just look at Ballyea missing seven (since the 2017 club final) and they haven’t done so bad (in becoming Clare champions again). So, we’re lucky that even if we’ve had a few personnel changes, on the field we’ve only lost two.”
What the Limerick champions have done in the provincial championship has simply been incredible: they have never lost in any of their 12 matches. “It is (some record), absolutely,” says Dowling. “We’ve come very close, but we’ve gotten through. We enjoy Munster; it’s easy to be a hurler in the summertime with the good ground and all that. We enjoy getting down and dirty and grafting it out. Obviously, we’re a good hurling side but we get greater satisfaction when people say we’re an honest, hardworking team that will graft out a victory when it’s not easy. We get a great buzz out of that and I think that’s why the Munster championship suits us.”
Ballygunner are a quality side, though, and had themselves in a winning position against the Caherdavin side early in the second half last year. Dowling was out of action thanks to a knee injury and could only watch on as his side battled against the current — eventually winning by eight. Philip and Pauric Mahony, Barry Coughlan, Shane O’Sullivan, Stephen O’Keeffe and many more stars make up a classy Waterford outfit.
“They have (a lot of class) and that’s what I’m saying,” says the 2014 All-Star. “Anyone who would look at the final score in the last two games [Munster finals] would be stupid. When you look deeper… they outhurled us in the first half last year. I was looking in from the stands and I was infuriated at the way the lads were playing. But they were playing that way because that’s the way Ballygunner made them play.
“If my memory is right and if he’s still there, Seanie O’Donnell is the stats man with them, and he was the stats man with Limerick this year. He is a serious man for detail. The only thing is, we’ve a small inclination of how he operates so we’d like to think we won’t be caught as flat-footed this year as last year. But if we’re not at the top of our game, we won’t win.
“Listen, it’s a Munster club final, any team not on the top of their game won’t win. There has been very little in it and they’ll take satisfaction knowing they’re not too far away.”
Dowling says that this group are “on the go since November 2016”, and that’s not even considering the county players who have had even less down-time. The wonder is that they can keep the fire burning, and chase after more silverware. After all, the free-scoring forward has now won every championship honour in the game: Munsters and All-Irelands for both club and county.
“I was saying recently I’d love to get my gearbag and hurley and throw it into the garage for a couple of months, but I love winning more. What keeps us going is that we’re just the most competitive groups of players.
“If Peter Casey calls up to my house and there’s two of the boys there and we end up playing the board game, ‘30 Seconds’, you don’t want to lose. You’re distraught if you lose because it’s just that competitive nature within so many players. The fear of losing is probably what keeps us going.”