AIB Leinster Club SHC Semi-Final
Na Fianna 2-14 Naas 0-17
By Paul Keane at Laois Hire O'Moore Park
First-time Dublin SHC winners Na Fianna are just 60 minutes from a dramatic AIB Leinster club title success after holding firm to secure their place in next weekend's final.
A couple of goals early in the second-half from Ciaran Stacey and AJ Murphy ultimately proved decisive for the north Dublin outfit who will make the short journey next Saturday from their Mobhi Road base to Croke Park for the provincial decider.
Niall O Ceallachain's side will probably be underdogs for that encounter with Kilkenny's O'Loughlin Gaels but considering all that they've done already this year, they will approach the glamour occasion with confidence.
They built on a two-point half-time lead in this game to lead by seven points at one stage and they were still six up with 49 minutes on the clock.
But five-in-a-row Kildare champions Naas, winners of the 2022 All-Ireland intermediate title, have plenty of experience and refused to throw the towel in.
Roared on by an enthusiastic crew of supporters, Naas got the margin down to just one point in stoppage time but late, late points from Na Fianna substitute Tom Brennan and top scorer Colin Currie proved to be the insurance scores.
It was another Na Fianna win achieved without Dublin star and club joint captain Donal Burke who is recovering from a serious hamstring injury.
The two Curries, Colin and Sean, have risen superbly to the challenge in Burke's absence, blasting 10 points between them today, while Murphy finished with 1-1 and there was a strong showing in defence from two-time All-Star Liam Rushe who only returned to the setup in September following an extended travel break.
The result means that the Leinster club football final, between Naas and Kilmacud Crokes, will also be played next Saturday as part of a double header at Croke Park. If Naas had won this game, the football final would have been put back to December 9.
This was only Na Fianna's second ever provincial fixture having won the Dublin championship for the first time last month.
They beat Raharney of Westmeath in the Leinster quarter-final 13 days ago and were installed as favourites again.
They duly opened up a 0-4 to 0-2 lead at the end of the opening quarter thanks in part to two points from converted Colin Currie frees.
But Naas, who were playing their 11th game in the competition, carried plenty of experience and reeled off four of the next five points in the game to take a 0-6 to 0-5 lead themselves.
Free-taker Jack Sheridan drilled a couple of those points while dual player Brian Byrne was on the mark too.
It was a tense, cagey contest and it appeared that both sides were only too aware of the huge prize in front of them - a first ever Leinster senior final place.
A nervy looking Na Fianna were guilty of over-elaborating at times, particularly around the half-back line where they attempted to pass the ball precisely to the hand, while midfielder Brian Ryan drilled two wides and dropped another point attempt short as the Glasnevin men momentarily struggled to find a foothold in the game. In all, Na Fianna struck seven first-half wides.
They finished the half strongly though and Sean Currie, a lively performer who always seemed to find space on the right for a pass, clipped a point before Murphy won two frees in the same zone that allowed Colin Currie to convert.
That left Na Fianna with a 0-8 to 0-6 half-time lead but it remained anyone's game.
The match-ups were intriguing; John McKeon picked up Na Fianna sharp-shooter Colin Currie, Peter O'Donoghue was on Murphy while, in Na Fianna's defence, ultra experienced Rushe manned the centre. Naas full-forward Sheridan, who finished with 0-8 from placed balls, was picked up by Na Fianna's Sean Burke.
A thriller belatedly broke out in the third quarter, ignited by a Na Fianna goal just 15 seconds into the second-half.
Stacey struck it after being set up by John Tierney. Just before the break, Tierney had threaded a sumptuous low ball through for Stacey who, on that occasion, hadn't been able to collect the ball which rolled harmlessly out of play. But Stacey made amends at the second time of asking and planted a low shot beyond the goalkeeper from the right of goals.
Naas, to their credit, cancelled out the three-pointer within two minutes with points from Simon Leacy, Kevin Aherne and Byrne but a second Na Fianna goal in the 38th minute came as a crushing blow to the underdogs.
Murphy was on the mark this time, capitalising on a great run by Colin Currie who was initially fouled but capitalised on the referee's sensible decision to play advantage.
Now Na Fianna led by 2-9 to 0-9 and the feeling was that if they could prevent Naas from scoring a goal, they would probably win.
That was precisely how it turned out because while Naas battled right to the death and picked off a series of points from Sheridan, Leacy and Cathal Dowling the closest they got to the Dubliners was a single point in stoppage time.
Scorers for Na Fianna: Colin Currie 0-8 (7fs), Ciaran Stacey 1-1, AJ Murphy 1-0, Sean Currie 0-2, Brian Ryan 0-1, Shane Barrett 0-1, Tom Brennan 0-1.
Scorers for Naas: Jack Sheridan 0-8 (6fs, 2 65s), Simon Leacy 0-3, Brian Byrne 0-2, Cian Boran 0-1, Kevin Whelan 0-1, Kevin Aherne 0-1, Cathal Dowling 0-1.
Na Fianna: Jonathan Tracey; Diarmuid Clerkin, Sean Burke, Conor McHugh; Paul O'Dea, Liam Rushe, Kevin Burke; Brian Ryan, Peter Feeney; John Tierney, Sean Currie, Micheal Murphy; AJ Murphy, Ciaran Stacey, Colin Currie.
Subs: Shane Barrett for Brian Ryan h/t, Donal Ryan for O'Dea 33, Sean Baxter for Tierney 47, Gavin King for Stacey 56, Tom Brennan for Murphy 64.
Naas: Cormac Gallagher; John McKeon, Ross Kelly, Peter O'Donoghue; Harry Carroll, Sean Gainey, Kevin Whelan; Rian Boran, Simon Leacy; Conor Boran, Cian Boran, Kevin Aherne; Brian Byrne, Jack Sheridan, James Burke.
Subs: Ferran O'Sullivan for Whelan 27-h/t blood, Cathal Dowling for Conor Boran 44, O'Sullivan for Gainey 54, Richie Hogan for Aherne 63.
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).