Nicky English: Limerick vs Cork was as good a hurling match as I’ve ever seen

After beating an outstanding Cork team in a brilliant match, there’s no doubt Limerick are in the ascendant

This was as good a hurling match as I’ve ever seen. It was brilliant on so many metrics, the scoring, the intensity of high-tempo hurling when players can’t afford to make mistakes and the excitement.

At the end of it all, whereas Limerick have survived a really difficult Munster campaign with their titles intact, you would have to feel for Cork, who met fire with fire and were super-competitive all championship – losing twice by a single point, winning one and drawing another – but now their season is over.

The discussion before this match was about Limerick’s sluggish start to the championship and the extent of their struggles to find the imposing form of the past three years. This was reflected in the performances of two former Hurlers of the Year, Gearóid Hegarty and Cian Lynch.

John Kiely dropped the latter and the former at last showed signs of life, scoring three points. The first point, symptomatic of his recent form, could have been hit earlier but he got the score and that appeared to get him going.


Then, down the vital stretch, he scored an unbelievable point after a fantastic catch and finished the match much more like himself. Lynch came on and although he didn’t score, he got on a few balls when the match was in the balance.

Most visibly, and as we saw in Thurles last week, the half-back line has come really good with the midfield and that has been the powerhouse of Limerick over the past few years. Today you had Diarmaid Byrnes as man of the match after a phenomenal second-half display and the other half-backs came up with vital scores.

Will O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan were extremely good in the middle, and from that middle third Limerick built a winning platform.

Tipperary were nearly gone after a poor result against Waterford and Cork could have pushed them over the edge had they grabbed an equaliser. Yet again, they displayed a resilience and can feel proud that they played a big role in one of the finest hurling matches you’d ever see.

They trailed by seven at one stage in the second half but Patrick Horgan scored a super goal off the ground – which you hardly ever see these days; the power he generated was fantastic and he was brilliant all day, a reflection of the team’s refusal to give up.

Ciarán Joyce was again excellent in defence, absolutely magnificent – his emergence has been hugely encouraging for the team. Darragh Fitzgibbon, his pace troubling Limerick, and Séamus Harnedy, back in great form, were also really good in a display that showed ironically the improvement in Cork this year.

It was a deserved win for Limerick but wouldn’t have taken much to swing it to a draw, which in the crazy climax to the championship would have put Tipperary out. Cork could feel a little hard done by, by the penalty which was perfectly tucked away by Byrnes.

It’s hard to see them finished now for the year.

But Limerick had the edge. Aaron Gillane was dangerous all day: threatening to catch, get a free or engineer a free. He set up Séamus Flanagan’s goal, kicked a ball off the post and threatened from the start.

Backs to the wall, they were really up for it. They had twice Cork’s wides but from the word go they had energy and intent. This was a real reset for Limerick. I had thought it would come last week but there’s no doubting it now.

They are back in the Munster final against their great rivals Clare and between them they gave us an amazing match last year.

Limerick are back, having had to survive a very rocky few weeks, which is testament to their mental strength. We know that they are capable of improvement when they hit Croke Park and the big games.

Questioned in many quarters since the slump in their post-league form, they put in a strong performance against outstanding opponents. It was their best display of the championship before a full house in the match of the year so far. They are now in the ascendant.

From a marketing perspective, it was a shame that this had to go up against Super Sunday in the English Premiership. I know the tightened season is popular with players but it was such a pity that a match like this, which would been on all televisions a week later, ended up in competition with the soccer finale.