Awesome Limerick rout the Rebels to win another All-Ireland

Cork have no answers to defending champions who secure third title in four years

Declan Hannon lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after Limerick’s All-Ireland Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Limerick 3-32 Cork 1-22

Whatever happened to nervous Limerick? Edge-of-the-seat Limerick? The Limerick that couldn’t bear to look, that watched from behind the sofa? Those days are over, the stuff of folk tale now. Limerick won this All-Ireland by 16 points, five more than they won last year. There is nobody in the sport within an ocean of them.

This was awesome. As in, literally awesome. A display for which the only reasonable response was awe. Limerick didn’t so much beat Cork as inhabit them. Every Limerick forward scored from play in the opening quarter. Every Limerick player monstered his opposing number throughout. Every Cork player knew their fate early and their fate was misery.

The squeeze from Limerick was so comprehensive that Cork equalled the record score for a losing team at half-time in an All-Ireland final and still went in 13 points behind. Even the great Patrick Horgan, typically economic and accurate with limited possession in the first half, was reduced to coming deep to look for puck-outs on his own 45 at the start of the second. In that, as in so much that Cork tried, he was unsuccessful.


Where to begin? May as well go with Cian Lynch. From the very first possession, he had a day from the gods. He snapped onto the first breaking ball to whip the first point after 10 seconds. From there on, he skipped about the place like a birthday boy on a bouncy castle, having the time of his life.

Cian Lynch celebrates after scoring a point during Limerick’s win over Cork at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Mark Coleman was trying to mark him and play his own game at the same time and ended up doing a bit of both but achieving neither. Lynch had the ball seven times in that first half and apart from his own point, he gave the last pass for another 2-4. He was irrepressible.

He sent Gearóid Hegarty away for the first Limerick goal just 90 seconds into the game. Luke Meade attempted a backwards handpass along the sideline but hadn’t realised that Coleman was without his hurley. Lynch flicked up the loose ball, drew a defender and released Hegarty lolloping into position 25 metres out from the Cork goal. Last year’s hurler of the year buried it past Patrick Collins and Limerick were away.

To Cork's credit, they recognised the terms and conditions of the thing very quickly. When referee Fergal Horgan played a long advantage soon after, Shane Kingston picked up possession on the Limerick 45 and made for goal, at no stage taking the handy point that was available to him. Instead, he knew Cork needed a goal so he went for it. Four minutes gone, Limerick 1-1 Cork 1-1.

That's what Cork were up against. They needed to score one of the great All-Ireland final goals just to keep their noses above the waves. And even then, it was only a momentary reprieve. Limerick whipped the next three scores, with Peter Casey, Declan Hannon and Seamus Flanagan stitching points on the run.

Cork couldn’t respond in kind. Horgan kept the thing ticking along here and there with frees but the ball wasn’t sticking in the Cork forward line. By contrast, every Limerick attack seemed to end with a score. Casey was having a beano of a day, with three on the board from play inside the opening quarter-hour.

And when Gillane jinked away from the cover as Flanagan took possession out in front of his man on 14 minutes, everyone in the ground sensed the killshot was coming. Flanagan’s pass was pinged to his palm, Gillane’s shot was low to the corner and just like that, Limerick were five ahead.

Gearoid Hegarty celebrates scoring Limerick’s third goal in their All-Ireland final rout of Cork. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

That’s how it stood at the water break, Limerick 2-8 to 1-6 ahead. Cork had stuck in there, missing virtually nothing in front of the posts, stretching and straining to try to hang on. Yet they were five down after the first quarter. And things only got worse for them from there.

Limerick, it turned out, were only getting started. They came out for the second quarter as if they’d never won a match in their lives and proceeded to outscore Cork by 1-10 to 0-5 between then and half-time. Casey was on fire, notching his fourth and fifth point before pulling up lame and having to go off. Hegarty whipped a couple of points and had a goal chance saved. Gillane was unplayable, Diarmaid Byrnes landed one from downtown.

And just to finish the whole thing off, Hegarty got in for his second goal on 36 minutes. Lynch was at the heart of it again, pirouetting like Zidane on the sideline and flicking a don’t-miss handpass inside to Hegarty. His finish was like everything else they did, it brooked no argument.

It all meant that Limerick went in at the break 3-18 to 1-11 ahead. For context, the previous combined record score at half-time in a final was 32 points - this final broke that number by a ridiculous nine. The Kilkenny team of 2008 - the greatest of the greatest, remember - had the previous first-half record of 2-16 scored. Limerick blitzed that and kept going.

Supporters at Croke Park look on during the All-Ireland SHC final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The rest of it could only be an accounting exercise. Lynch kept on having a ball, ending up with six points from play. John Kiely ran the bench, throwing on Leaving Cert student Colin Coughlin for Declan Hannon and making him the first hurler born in the 2000s to win an All-Ireland medal. They’ll be around a while yet.

For the rest of hurling, that’s a sobering thought.

Limerick: 1. Nickie Quaid; 2. Seán Finn, 3. Dan Morrisey, 4. Barry Nash (0-1); 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; 5. Tim O'Mahony, 6. Mark Coleman (0-1, free), 7. Eoin Cadogan; 8. Darragh Fitzgibbon, 9. Luke Meade (0-1); 10. Conor Cahalane, 11. Séamus Harnedy (0-4), 12. Robbie O'Flynn; 13 Jack O'Connor (0-1), 14. Patrick Horgan (capt; 0-12, 10 frees), 15.  Shane 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).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times