Limerick show right stuff to close 17-year gap with victory over Cork

Patrick Horgan’s sending off for wild overhead pull a major talking point


LIMERICK 0-24 CORK 0-15: The sun blazed down on Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds, just as it had for the semi-final surprise of Tipperary, and it was possible to believe as the near-capacity crowd filled the ground that Limerick must surely bridge the 17-year gap that separated the county from its last Munster hurling title.

Yet the history of hurling in the province is full of fairytale endings that are more in keeping with the brothers Grimm than the conventional meaning of the phrase.

Even though Cork had popped up unexpectedly the legends tell us that the county specialises in the rapid emergence of unconsidered teams and if not that, certainly the rapid growth of expectations.

In the end it was straightforward. With a man advantage for the second half, Limerick picked up tempo and as their formidable bench reserve of forwards – between them Shane Dowling, Kevin Downes and Niall Moran scored six points – were rolled out, the match ended in a delirium of green and white and a relentless scoring barrage.

The match’s big moment came with the sending off of Cork’s free taker Patrick Horgan, who pulled wildly and caught Paudie O’Brien, leaving referee James McGrath in no doubt but to reach for the red card.

But looking at the first half, it’s hard to say that the dismissal was a decisive event in influencing the outcome. Cork had missed too much and played too much ball for the half-time parity, 0-10 each, to be anything other than an uneasy scoreline, even had they got to the break with all 15 of the crew on board.

Missed frees
His presence was however noticeable when replacement Jamie Coughlan missed a couple of frees in the second half, each depressing the mood among the travelling support, by offending against the obvious protocol that a team a man short needs to take its chances.

Although Limerick played nervously after a good start, they managed to hang on during a first half in which they faced the wind and if that was negligible, the sun that shone into their eyes made life uncomfortable and goalkeeper Nickie Quaid fumbled the ball in the 20th minute, apparently dazzled.

On that occasion Richie McCarthy reacted well and cleared, but for much of the opening 35 minutes, Limerick’s full backs were under pressure and the first problem to materialise for Cork was the poor return from their decisive advantages of territory and chances.

The frustration for Cork was that the team played well for most of the first half. Once they had recovered from the early deficit, 0-1 to 0-4 after seven minutes, they outscored Limerick by 0-8 to 0-3 in the following 20 minutes.

Christopher Joyce and Daniel Kearney put in a good shift at centrefield and with captain Patrick Cronin also providing a good target for puck-outs and clearances they were able to move the ball forward cleverly.

Séamus Harnedy caused problems at full forward but the overall impact was subdued by the statistic of 10 wides in the first half.

The Cork defence played really well in the first half. Shane O’Neill marked Declan Hannon closely and the backs supported well to clear their lines. Anthony Nash’s varied puck-outs often went short and teed up uncontested possession. Tom Kenny overcame early problems with Séamus Hickey to play a strong role in Cork’s ascendancy. Limerick though held on and Hannon converted frees to keep the scoreboard ticking over and Cork’s goal never came. A double effort from Harnedy and Horgan ended up wide in the 18th minute and point attempts continued to go the same way.

Spare man
For the second half Limerick manager John Allen designated McCarthy as the spare man and the team stuck rigidly to the plan. Cork’s forward impact was considerably blunted.

Harnedy was unable to function as well in the depleted attack and Limerick took charge. Hannon began to stretch the defensive cover and James Ryan, who put in an immense afternoon’s work, established a permanent foothold in the half forwards. Mistakes followed and points came from sloppy and frequently harassed turnovers and without goals the match was drifting farther and farther beyond Cork’s grasp.

Conor Lehane was substituted and although Cathal Naughton managed a couple of trademark runs and Cronin continued to battle – leading a revival that cut the deficit to two with just over 10 minutes remaining – Limerick wouldn’t relent.

The contrast in menace between the respective benches was adequately illustrated when Jimmy Barry-Murphy took the option of throwing on the skyscraper presence of Michael Cussen, a forlorn attempt to open up Limerick with high ball but his only chance came off the ground and he hit it wide.

The virtuosity of points from Hannon’s line ball and the replacement forwards stretched the margin until there was nothing for Limerick players and supporters alike to do except celebrate.

LIMERICK: 1. N Quaid; 2. S Walsh, 3. R McCarthy, 4. T Condon; 5. P O’Brien (0-1), 6. W McNamara, 7. G O’Mahony; 8. P Browne (0-1), 9. D O’Grady (capt); 10. D Breen, 11. J Ryan (0-3), 12. S Hickey (0-1); 13, G Mulcahy (0-2), 14. D Hannon (0-8, five frees, one lineball), 15. S Tobin (0-2). Subs: 20. S Dowling (0-3) for Breen (46 mins), 21. C Allis for Mulcahy (52 mins), 18. C King for O’Brien (58 mins), 23. K Downes (0-2) for Tobin (65 mins), 22. N Moran (0-1) for Hickey (69 mins).
CORK: 1. A Nash; 3. S McDonnell, 2. S O’Neill, 4. C O’Sullivan; 5. T Kenny, 8. L McLoughlin, 7. W Egan; 6. C Joyce, 9. D Kearney (0-1); 15. C Lehane, 11. C McCarthy, 12. P Cronin (capt; 0-3); 13. L O’Farrell (0-1), 10. S Harnedy (0-3), 14. P Horgan (0-4, two frees). Subs: 24. J Coughlan (0-2, frees) for McCarthy (half-time), 23. C Naughton (0-1) for Lehane (42 mins), 26. M Cussen for O’Farrell (54 mins), 21. S White for McLoughlin (59 mins).

Cards: Yellow - Cork: Kenny (21 mins), McLoughlin (24 mins), McDonnell (68 mins). Red – Cork: Horgan (35 mins).
Attendance: 42,730
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).