Limerick going nowhere as they put league form behind them in Cork win

Rebel county struck early with goal after 16 seconds but All-Ireland winners hold strong

Limerick 2-25 Cork 1-17

Champions Limerick laid to rest any notion that they had lost their way during an uninspiring league campaign. In doing so, they all but repeated the comprehensive scale of their defeat of Cork in last year’s All-Ireland final.

Briefly this first round of the Munster championship in Páirc Uí Chaoimh flickered competitively, as the home side started in a blaze of intent and a goal came within seconds of the throw-in.

Conor Cahalane, a late change for Séamus Harnedy, burst through the middle, drew the cover and placed Shane Kingston to fire the opening salvo - his fourth goal in successive games.


Shane Barrett followed up with a point and Patrick Horgan with a free. It was 1-2 to no score within six minutes and Limerick, playing into a gusting wind, were finding it hard to score.

If Cork could have frozen it all there, their bounce-back from a hefty league final beating by Waterford would have been successful and the relevance of the nine-point defeat of Limerick in the league would have been vindicated.

The reasons why it didn’t play out like that for the home team are numerous but the improvement - beyond recognition - of Limerick is the most obvious. Like two years ago, the winners brought novelty to the contest.

When they walloped Tipperary in the provincial semi-final on a November evening, the big switch saw Kyle Hayes, Man of the Match in the 2018 All-Ireland final at centre forward, moved to wing back with Cian Lynch going onto the 40.

This time around, Hayes was moved from wing back to corner forward with Mike Casey returning to championship action for the first time since 2019, after recovering from a cruciate injury. His resumption of the full-back role, freed Dan Morrissey to go back to his previous posting at left wing back.

Manager John Kiely said that they had been considering Hayes’s redeployment for a while and that it wasn’t simply a response to All Star full-forward Séamus Flanagan’s injury.

“He didn’t get on the ball a lot in the first half. I think he’d two possessions. He got 1-1 from two possessions. He got his tackle count in, worked hard, he didn’t panic, he kept his composure. That’s the job he was asked to do for the team today and he did it,” said Kiely.

When Limerick were looking unsteady in those opening 10 minutes, the rallying point came from Diarmaid Byrnes. His muscular shooting into the wind yielded two points from frees and one from play, acknowledged by a fist pump. By the 10th minute there was just a point in it, 0-4 to 1-2 and Cork looked increasingly becalmed.

Their defence was living on its wits, waiting for the colossal Limerick forwards to come hunting them down, a state of anxiety that did little for precise clearances. Goalkeeper Patrick Collins found himself at times hopping around in agitation looking for the out ball before simply lamping it as far away as possible.

Hayes struck for goal in the 15th minute, giving Damien Cahalane the slip and planting the ball in the Cork net. The home side by now were struggling to compete on equal terms. They couldn’t win much ball if the deliveries sent early and running in possession carried their own dangers of getting turned over.

Graeme Mulcahy, an exception in Limerick’s Land of Giants attack, made his presence felt by dispossessing Seán O’Donoghue, allowing Hayes to spot Gillane free inside and the Patrickswell man picked his spot.

Cian Lynch had a relatively subdued afternoon but Cork’s efforts - Ger Millerick’s specifically - simply created space elsewhere in the middle, which was ruthlessly exploited by Gearóid Hegarty for a couple of points thundering through the centre.

For the second year, Cork watched a first-half initiative washed away by Limerick scores before half-time.

Long Ball

At the break, Harnedy was brought back in, as Cork tried to create a long option but it didn’t really work, as the overall aerial competition was so strong. Still they mirrored their good start on the resumption, firing four points in succession from Robbie O’Flynn, Shane Barrett and Conor Lehane to create renewed optimism among the home support in the crowd of around 40,000.

Level at 1-12 to 2-9, the challenge atrophied for the remaining half-hour during which they were out-scored 0-16 to 0-5.

Cork had no answer to the power of Limerick’s defence. The odd chance that was contrived drew two quality saves from Nickie Quaid - an acrobatic leap turned Bennett’s attempt at goal into a point. Otherwise the backs were exemplary, led by Byrnes, who with six points, three frees, was named RTE’s Man of the Match, and the flawless Seán Finn.

If we were looking for indicators this weekend, we got them. Limerick aren’t going anywhere. Their second match at home to Waterford next weekend should pack out the Ennis Road.

Limerick: N Quaid; B Nash (0-2), M Casey, S Finn; D Byrnes (0-6, three frees), D Hannon (capt; 0-1), D Morrissey (0-1); G Hegarty (0-3), C Lynch (0-2), T Morrissey (0-1); A Gillane (1-4, two frees), K Hayes (1-1), G Mulcahy.

Subs: C O’Neill (0-2) for T Morrissey (57 mins), D Reidy (0-1) for O’Donovan (61 mins), O O’Reilly for Hayes (63 mins), C Boylan for Hegarty (69 mins), P Ryan (0-1) for Mulcahy (69 mins).

Cork: P Collins; N O’Leary, D Cahalane, S O’Donoghue; T O’Mahony (0-1), M Coleman (capt), C Joyce; D Fitzgibbon (0-1), G Millerick; R O’Flynn (0-2), S Barrett (0-2), C Cahalane; S Kingston (1-0), P Horgan (0-9, eight frees), C Lehane (0-2).

Subs: S Harnedy for C Cahalane (half-time), R Downey for D Cahalane (53 mins), J O’Connor for Kingston (55 mins), A Connolly for Barrett (55 mins), L Meade for Lehane (61 mins),

Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times