Munster SHC, round 5: Limerick 3-25 Cork 1-30
Only the outcome mattered. A match that spun on nearly 60 scores, and surges and rallies and mistakes and brilliance and relentless tension, was decided by the finest margin. Limerick threw their shoulders back and Cork pretended not to notice. In the end, Cork’s season ran out of time. For the All-Ireland champions the summer stretches in front of them, brimming with promise now.
The permutations were extraordinary. With Waterford blindsiding Tipperary in Thurles a draw in the Gaelic Grounds would have meant that Cork and Limerick would both have survived and Tipp would have been eliminated on scoring difference.
When the roulette wheel stopped though, Limerick had reached their fifth Munster final in a row, surfing some momentum for the first time in this year’s championship. All of the things we thought were inevitable six weeks ago are suddenly possible again.
It was a stunning match. It is rare for two teams to produce their best performance of the year on the same day, but, gloriously, these teams met at that sweet spot. In those circumstances Cork had much less room for error and ultimately they couldn’t keep their critical errors below a manageable threshold.
For the third game in a row Cork found themselves swimming furiously against the tide in the second half, but they recovered from seven points down with 11 minutes of normal time remaining and hounded Limerick all the way to the finish.
For Limerick though, the gains in their performance were clear to see. “I don’t know the full data of it now but listen if we were going after anything this week, we were probably going after having a really much higher work rate and we got that, we knew we got that,” said John Kiely.
“So first goal achieved in that regard but the efficiency levels still need to improve. We would have worked on it this week, we will work on it again next week and the week after and we’ll keep working on it and this is not a place we haven’t been before. We’ve had this scenario in previous seasons where we’ve thought we were creating loads of scoring chances but our efficiency and conversion rate weren’t maybe quite where it needs to be.”
Limerick had managed just three goals so far in the championship, but they doubled that number yesterday and it proved to be the ultimate difference between the teams. Their half-backs and centre fielders produced nine points between them too, reviving an energy source that had been dormant recently. By the end Limerick had 11 different scorers, a spread that Cork couldn’t match.
Cork, though, refused to fold. Immediately after Diarmuid Byrne’s goal from a penalty, 10 minutes into the second half, Tim O’Mahony missed a huge goal chance for Cork, but they kept chipping away with points. They had fallen seven behind by the time Patrick Horgan finally came up with Cork’s only goal after an hour, but they kept Limerick scoreless for the next nine minutes, and brought the deficit down to one. In a fight, they didn’t fall down.
In a breathless first half the momentum kept shifting. Cork went on a run of six unanswered points in dizzying three-minute spell that put them four clear in the middle of the first half; Limerick responded with two goals in the second quarter. Nobody was in control.
Cork brought the kind of energy and aggression that only gives you a fighting chance against Limerick and they forced more turnovers in the middle third than Limerick would ever expect to concede. Their efficiency, especially early on, was terrific. Cork didn’t shoot a wide until the 20th minute, by which time they had 11 points on the scoreboard.
At the other end, though, Limerick posed a persistent goal threat. Patrick Collins made a great save from Aaron Gillane after 11 minutes, dispossessing the Limerick forward as he was about to shoot.
But Limerick kept creating chances. Gillane hit the post with a kicked effort that was scrambled clear, but the breakthrough finally came after 25 minutes when Cork were mugged working the ball out of defence, and William O’Donoghue played a brilliant scoring pass to Cathal O’Neill, while being wrapped up by three defenders.
Six minutes later they struck again. The rampant Gillane caught a long delivery from Kyle Hayes and fed Seamus Flanagan, who finished emphatically from close range.
That put Limerick 2-10 to 0-15 in front, but Cork steadied themselves, and the teams were level by the break, 2-12 to 0-18. When these teams met in last year’s championship Cork had only managed 17 points against Limerick in 70 minutes; beating that in one half of hurling was a measure of Cork’s improvement. And still they came up agonisingly short.
Limerick: N Quaid, M Casey, D Morrissey, B Nash (0-1), D Byrnes (1-4, 1-0 pen, 0-1 65) D Hannon (0-1), K Hayes (0-1), D O’Donovan (0-3), W O’Donoghue (0-1), G Hegarty (0-3), C O’Neill (1-0), T Morrissey (0-2), A Gillane (0-5, 0-2 frees), S Flanagan (1-3), P Casey (0-1). Subs: Richie English for Hannon, 54 mins; D Reidy for O’Neill, 57 mins; C Coughlan for Casey, 64 mins; G Mulcahy for Casey, 65 mins; C Lynch for O’Donovan, 67 mins.
Cork: P Collins, N O’Leary, D Cahalane, S O’Donoghue, G Millerick, C Joyce, R Downey (0-1), B Roche, L Meade (0-1), T O’Mahony (0-1), D Fitzgibbon (0-4), D Dalton (0-3, 0-2 frees), S Kingston (0-2), P Horgan (1-14, 0-11 frees), S Harnedy (0-4). Subs: B Hayes for Roche 39 mins; C Lehane for O’Mahony 54 mins; P Power for Kingston 58 mins; E Twomey for Meade for 59 mins; S Barrett for Dalton 62 mins.
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).