Awesome Limerick reach new heights as they complete back-to-back triumphs

Champions unleash barrage of first-half scores to leave outclassed Cork shell-shocked

Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty celebrates scoring his side’s third goal during the victory over Cork in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty celebrates scoring his side’s third goal during the victory over Cork in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

LIMERICK 3-32 CORK 1-22

In 2018 Limerick hurlers fulfilled the dreams of their put-upon followers by bringing back the All-Ireland for the first time in 45 years. Three years later they have become Leviathan, ruling the world with such force and tolerating so little argument that they strolled to a third All-Ireland in four years, their second successive final win by double digits.

How good are they at this stage – objectively? It’s hard to know but they put up a record score for an All-Ireland, threw in 19 wides and won pulling up.

Poor old Cork. For the romantics in the county, everything was in place for a classic ambush. Free-form and quick, their knacky game had been liberated by defeating Kilkenny in the semi-final and sure, they never fear Limerick. Get a run on them and you never know.

You’d imagine there’ll be better days ahead for the team but in the final of 2021, they were introduced to the hurling Enlightenment and the little time it has for the mysterious tyranny of tradition and assorted superstition.

Limerick quite simply demonstrated the full catalogue of their virtues: relentless physicality to squeeze the oxygen from Cork’s ideal world, unstoppably well-drilled routines for moving the ball from defence to where it could be rifled crossfield into the space around Aaron Gillane and Séamus Flanagan and – for one dazzling half until he was injured, Peter Casey, reprieved from his semi-final red card.

The distance they have travelled blinked out on the half-time scoreboard, 3-18 to 1-11. Already, they had exceeded the winning total from their 2018 All-Ireland.

It was hard to pinpoint any area of the pitch in which Cork weren’t putting out fires.

Impossible acreage

Their overwhelmed defenders had nowhere to go: given impossible acreage to defend and no room for error on short puck-outs with their every second touch or semi-fumble inviting the release of the hounds. Niall O’Leary and Seán O’Donoghue would have been in All Star conversations but both corner backs were hauled in before the final quarter.

It was simply a level of ferocity and a tempo so unforgiving that Cork had never encountered it on the road to the final; no crucial moments, no watershed swing, just a series of signposts signalling that the destination was getting farther way.

Within two minutes Limerick had the ball in the net. Cian Lynch played in Gearóid Hegarty and he swept the ball into the net to put the champions a goal up. Cork’s response was admirable. Within two minutes Shane Kingston, star of the semi-final, got a run down the left, held his nerve and got close enough to slam the ball past Nickie Quaid. Level.

The problem was that in any game plan of Kieran Kingston, such an individual goal would have been a jab to stun the favourites not a a score desperately needed to prevent the match spinning out of control in the opening minutes.

Significant influences abounded even that early. Lynch’s containment had been one of the dominant strands in pre-match discussions and Cork detailed Mark Coleman, their own playmaker to keep track of the Patrickswell wizard.

This had the effect of curtailing Coleman’s game more than Lynch’s and the latter gave it the full Gandalf treatment with mesmerising statistics: a point within 10 seconds of the throw-in, 0-6 from play and assists for another 2-3.

His deftness of touch, vision and accuracy provided a crowning display in a season in which he has been the dominant influence on the dominant team.

In keeping with Limerick’s season, the match moved inexorably in their direction, their lead stretching as the match went on. They failed to win the final quarter but were at that stage 16 ahead and it was only the fourth quarter of hurling they had failed to win in the 16 played this championship.

Lynch’s promptings were complemented by strong performances elsewhere in the attack. The luckless Casey injured his knee at the end of the first half and had to be replaced, having already shot 0-5 from play and laid waste to Cork’s full-back line.

Flanagan again demonstrated what an improved player he has become. Admittedly he was served with sumptuous deliveries but his improved awareness and use of the ball was summed up when picked out by Declan Hannon – the captain having possibly his most imposing game of this great era for the team – and he drew the defence before flipping the ball to Gillane for the second goal with just 14 minutes up.

Cashed in

Gearóid Hegarty had a slightly frustrating first half, shooting four wides but the edge would have been taken off his frustration by the 2-2 he did get – the second in first-half injury-time and set up by another sleight of Lynch’s hand. He might have had a hat-trick but struck a chance wide on an advantage, which Gillane cashed in.

That was it, 3-18 to 1-11 at half-time. Thirteen points to the good and no earthly way back for Cork.

They did their best to rally. Patrick Horgan was near-faultless in the compiling of 0-12, two from play, and the bench was run early to see if a revive could be coaxed out of the shell-shocked players.

Limerick did become a little blasé after half-time and small errors crept in but they still pushed the margin out by a further three points in the third quarter. By then operation shock and awe had closed the book on a third All-Ireland in four years and the county’s first back-to-back titles.

LIMERICK: 1. Nickie Quaid; 4. Barry Nash (0-1), 3. Dan Morrissey, 2. Seán Finn; 5. Diarmaid Byrnes (0-2, one free), 6. Declan Hannon (capt; 0-2), 7. Kyle Hayes; 8. Will O’Donoghue, 9. Darragh O’Donovan (0-1); 10. Gearóid Hegarty (2-2), 11. Cian Lynch (0-6), 12. Tom Morrissey (0-3); 13. Aaron Gillane (1-6, three frees), 14. Séamus Flanagan (0-1).15. Peter Casey (0-5).

Subs: 22. G Mulcahy (0-1) for Casey (35+ mins), 25. D Reidy (0-1) for Hegarty (62 mins), 19. C Coughlan for Nash (65 mins), 23. Barry Murphy for Mulcahy, 26. Pat Ryan (0-1) for T Morrissey (70 mins).

CORK: 1. Patrick Collins; 2. Niall O’Leary (0-1), 3. Robert Downey, 4. Seán O’Donoghue; 7. Eoin Cadogan, 6. Mark Coleman (0-1, free), 5. Tim O’Mahony; 9. Luke Meade (0-1), 10. Conor Cahalane; 12. Robbie O’Flynn, 11. Séamus Harnedy (0-4), 8. Darragh Fitzgibbon; 13 Jack O’Connor (0-1), 14. Patrick Horgan (capt; 0-12, 10 frees), 15. Kieran Kingston (1-0).

Subs: 19. Damien Cahalane for C Cahalane (half-time), 23. Shane Barrett (0-1) for Fitzgibbon, (47 mins), 22. Alan Cadogan (0-1) for O’Connor, (47 mins), 17. Seán O’Leary-Hayes for O’Leary (47 mins), 20. Niall Cashman for O’Donoghue (52 mins), 25. Declan Dalton for O’Flynn.

Referee: Fergal Horan (Tipperary)

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