Allianz Hurling League Division 1A: Cork 2-17 Limerick 0-22
The roar from the massive Cork crowd at the final whistle paid no heed to the calendar, or the junk food calories of a League match. In the end they had seen something substantial and admirable: a youngish, greenish Cork team hunting and hounding and making body hits and not standing back, and to borrow some jargon from elsewhere, committing bodies to the rucks. Limerick have been masters of this combat for years. They know the difference it makes.
When the counting finished Cork had come from eight points down at the break to land a winner in the 10th minute of stoppage time. Most of the time added on had been caused by an horrific injury to Cork’s outstanding forward Robbie O’Flynn, who was treated on the field for about seven minutes before eventually being stretchered off with a serious ankle injury.
In the split season, with its condensed schedule, the potential for injuries to be season-ending is much greater than before, and Cork will feel his loss keenly. On Saturday night his spectacular goal four minutes into the second half ignited Cork’s comeback, and he played a key role in the build-up to Cork’s second goal, seven minutes later. He tormented Limerick with his pace and directness and his facility to beat a man, and for all the speedy players that Cork have at their disposal, O’Flynn is the one with the all-court game.
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Limerick will be cross with themselves for being bullied a little in the second half, and that will irritate them much more than the outcome. When they were on top in the first half they absorbed whatever aggression Cork could muster, and shifted the ball to moving targets with their customary precision and calmness. But Cork lifted the intensity of their tackling in the second half, and Limerick were knocked out of that rhythm.
Gearoid Hegarty, for example, been on the ball 11 times in the first half, a hugely impressive number. Cork couldn’t lay a glove on him as he roamed at will, and switched to different stations on the half forward line. In passing, he picked off three points, and played a hand in a couple of others.
In the second half, though, he was on the ball just twice before he was replaced, 13 minutes from the end. Cork established a foothold under Limerick’s puck-outs and made a better fist of moving the ball out of defence with quick passes to surging runners. It all looked more coherent.
In the build-up to the game Patrick Horgan had drawn the spotlight on himself with a calculated interview at the Allianz League launch. Horgan has been around events like that for many years, and like all the top players, he is more than capable of holding reporters scoreless. Clearly though he had stuff to get off his chest about last season, and how he felt he had been mistreated. He knew exactly what he was doing.
If he felt any pressure on Saturday evening, he carried it lightly. In a storming display Horgan showed the kind of leadership and energy that had too often been lacking in his performances last year. Instead, he was productive and busy and hungry for work. Of the 10 points he scored four were from play, and he was fouled for three of the frees that he converted. For his coup de grace he played the scoring pass for Shane Kingston’s winner, protecting the ball under savage pressure.
Pat Ryan, the Cork manager, suggested that Horgan would benefit from less convoluted build-up play in the middle third and there was evidence of that. Cork’s inside forwards made their runs in the expectation that the ball would arrive earlier and from a little further out; on the whole, that worked.
Limerick will take plenty from the evening too. Declan Hannon was masterful at centre back before he was forced off with an injury midway through the second half, and Colin Coughlan produced the best performance of his young career. Limerick would probably like more competition for places in their forward line and Adam English looks like he is about to emerge from the ranks of the coming-men.
Having scored 16 points in the first half though, Limerick could only manage six in the second, and that left them exposed to Cork’s head of steam. By the way, Cork’s equaliser and winner both originated from turnovers. The All-Ireland champions will appreciate that.
Cork: P Collins, C O’Callaghan, E Downey 0-1, S O’Donoghue (N O’Leary 30 mins), T O’Connell, C Joyce 0-1, D Cahalane, B O’Sullivan (S Barrett 44 mins), L Meade 0-1, B Roche 0-1, C Lehane 0-1, C Beausang (S Kingston 40 mins; 0-1), D Dalton 1-0 (B Hayes 55 mins), P Horgan 0-10, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65, R O’Flynn 1-1 (C Cahalane 68 mins).
Limericl: D McCarthy, S Finn, R English, A Costelloe, D Morrissey, D Hannon 0-1 (C Barry 48 mins; 0-1), C Coughlan 0-2, D O’Donovan 0-1, B Murphy 0-1, G Hegarty 0-3 (C Lynch 58 mins), D Reidy 0-8, 0-7 frees, 0-1 65 T Morrissey 0-1, A English 0-2 (G Mulcahy 55 mins), S Flanagan 0-1 (D O’Dalaigh 69 mins; 0-1), O O’Reilly (S O’Brien 50 mins).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).