Limerick 1-13 Cork 2-19
One of those league afternoons that feels vaguely tectonic in the moment but in reality probably doesn’t mean much of a squiggle on the seismometer. Cork were superior to Limerick in every department – quicker, hardier, notably more tactically astute. And yet the calendar says this game went down on the last Sunday in February so who’s to say it meant anything at all?
It is, of course, only the league. A league, by the by, that Limerick made abundantly clear from the start they had no interest in making the final of, much less actually winning. The decider is a fortnight before these two teams meet in the first round of the Munster championship – so you can be fairly sure Cork don't have it on top of their priority list either. In Blackadder terms, it's the league-iest league since Leaguey the Lemur got stranded 20,000 leagues under the Lee.
For all that, facts are facts. Cork were very good here and Limerick were very, very not good. Kieran Kingston’s side played with the wind in the first half and sat deep on every Limerick puck-out, forcing the All-Ireland champions to try and work the ball the length of the pitch and pouncing on them when they got to midfield.
A couple of Shane Kingston goals and a world of frees from Patrick Horgan and Mark Coleman added up to a 14-point lead by half-time. It was all pretty much as simple as that.
"It's a league game at the end of February," said the Cork manager afterwards. "And I said before the game to TG4 that we were happy with where we are, with our evolution as a group, and nothing has changed.
“I still say I’m happy knowing we have a lot of work to do – we lost the second half by five points. That’s not acceptable from my perspective and as a group we’re not happy with that.”
Poor-mouthing notwithstanding, Cork did all they came to do in front of the 12,081 crowd. They tackled like they meant it around the middle and they kept the likes of Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey under lock and key in the process.
They stood 0-7 to 0-3 up after 20 minutes – with most of the scores on either side coming from frees – when a long diagonal ball from Robbie O'Flynn was judged better by Horgan than his marker Dan Morrissey. A quick transfer to Kingston and Cork had the first goal. When the excellent Darragh Fitzgibbon followed up with a whipped point straight from the puck-out, Cork led by eight and Limerick hadn't scored for 15 minutes.
The second Cork goal came just before the break, Kingston again pouncing after fine work by Horgan and Conor Lehane. Shane Barrett nailed the next score to put them 2-13 to 0-5 ahead and there was still time for Kingston and Séamus Flanagan to get straight reds before half-time, both for head-high tackles.
John Kiely brought on the heavy mob for the second half, with Diarmaid Byrnes, Will O'Donoghue and Aaron Gillane sprung from the bench. But although Limerick came out with more purpose and energy, they never really made much of a dent in the Cork lead. Colin O'Neill did snatch a goal after an ill-advised bit of dawdling by Niall O'Leary but it wasn't until stoppage time that the lead dipped below double figures. A rout, any way you look at it.
“We’re not accurate at the moment,” Kiely said afterwards. “We’re not doing the basics well. We’re dropping balls. We’re not getting the ball to hand. We’re not getting our passes. Full credit to the opposition, they’re putting the pressure on.
“Of the three games so far, we’d be satisfied with only one of the performances. That’s the bottom line. The players I know are hurting at the moment. They’re finding it difficult. But there is great character in this group. There is great leadership in this group. There’s tremendous ability in this group. And when these boys’ backs are put to the wall, I know the response they will give.”
LIMERICK: Barry Hennessy; Seán Finn, Dan Morrissey, Aaron Costello; Colin Coughlan, Declan Hannon, Kyle Hayes; Darragh O'Donovan (0-1, free), Robbie Hanley; Cathal O'Neill (1-1), Cian Lynch (0-1), Tom Morrissey; Darren O'Connell, Séamus Flanagan (0-1), David Reidy (0-3, two frees).
Subs: Richie English for Finn (35 mins); Will O'Donoghue for Hanley, Diarmaid Byrnes (0-2, two frees) for Coughlan, Aaron Gillane (0-3, three frees) for O'Connell (all h-t); Graeme Mulcahy (0-1) for Reidy (48); Conor Boylan for O'Neill (55).
CORK: Patrick Collins; Niall O'Leary, Daire O'Leary, Seán O'Donoghue; Tim O'Mahony (0-1), Mark Coleman (0-2, one free), Ger Mellerick; Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-1), Ciarán Joyce; Mark Keane, Conor Lehane (0-2), Robbie O'Flynn (0-2); Shane Kingston (2-0), Patrick Horgan (0-9, seven frees, one 65), Shane Barrett (0-1).
Subs: Conor Cahalane (0-1) for Keane (41 mins); Jack O'Connor for Lehane (46); Cormac O'Brien for O'Leary (56); Alan Connolly for Horgan (62); Séamus Harnedy for Barrett (64); Seán Twomey for O'Flynn (70).
Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin)