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Nicky English: Improving Cork show real resilience to set up a fitting final

Rebels dig deep to see off defiant Cats but champions Limerick looking formidable

After Saturday, there was a temptation to wonder whether it was worth Kilkenny's and Cork's while turning up for this semi-final given the awesome nature of Limerick's win over Waterford. But turn up they did – and with gusto in what turned out to be a brilliant contest.

Ultimately the better team won and more significantly the more dangerous opponents for Limerick. Cork are a young team and learning on the job. The space in Croke Park suited them and they eventually cut through Kilkenny.

An unbelievable second half from Shane Kingston turned the match around and although Adrian Mullen's goal unexpectedly took it into extra-time I think, as things turned out, that will have helped Cork.

It was a real examination. Cork missed a 65 that would have given them a four-point lead but instead everything remained in the melting pot.


Kilkenny were reaching back with Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan coming off the bench and other forwards interchanging

They must have headed to the dressing-room in low enough spirits. The setback was a huge blow and the way they survived it was akin to the win over Clare when they had to scrap it out in the closing minutes.

This season, bit by bit, Cork are starting to answer the questions. Sunday was another opportunity to overcome adversity.

Instead of just surviving a Kilkenny comeback in 70 minutes, they had to go and win it and did so impressively. The key event for me was Jack O'Connor finding that opening to burn off Conor Delaney for the goal.

It took off from there. For a good bit of the match little had been seen of that pacy, goal threat but once Kingston came in at centre forward and O’Connor moved to wing forward, things began to click.

In the end they were better off having to do it the hard way. Whether the experience will pay off this year against Limerick isn't guaranteed but they saw off a battle-hardened adversary in Croke Park where four times in the past eight years, they have lost All-Ireland semi-finals and a quarter-final.

The pressure will be off as they won’t be expected to beat Limerick but from a Limerick point of view they could have got tried and tested opponents with a known ceiling but instead will be facing a team still developing.

Right track

Cork could do with simplifying things. If Tim O'Mahony doesn't try and pick out a pass in the last minute but just belts the ball up the pitch, Fergal Horgan probably blows the whistle. Instead Pádraig Walsh plays in Mullen for the goal.

But they’re on the right track. Waterford tried to outmuscle Limerick on Saturday and it didn’t stand a chance of working. Cork will try to play around them and they’ve nothing to lose which makes them dangerous opposition.

Kilkenny were reaching back with Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan coming off the bench and other forwards interchanging. Once again they absolutely produced what it says on the tin but that's no longer enough and in the end it was too much of a struggle.

It tells a lot that they are now more dependent on Eoin Murphy, who produced a string of excellent saves, than TJ Reid.

On Saturday Limerick were unstoppable. They’re improving as they go in what’s turning out to be a really well-timed All-Ireland run and have now produced three successive halves of outstanding hurling.

I was particularly impressed with Limerick's discipline. They tackled with the chest rather than using arms and hurleys, which suggested that they've done some work on this aspect of their game

Up until half-time in the Munster final they had been relying on Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes but this time we saw year's-best performances from a number of Limerick players, including Nickie Quaid. On the occasions that Waterford managed to escape the stifling attention of their markers, the goalkeeper made some excellent saves.

There were a couple of factors that I felt influenced Waterford’s approach. Fatigue in their fourth match in successive weeks was bound to be a factor even though they made no excuses of their punishing schedule. In last year’s final they were physically overwhelmed and they appeared determined not to allow that happen again.

They attacked savagely in the first quarter. Conor Gleeson stuck to Cian Lynch and the Bennetts put themselves about with some serious hits, showing that Waterford were well up for it. I'm not sure if I was going to war with Limerick that I'd choose physicality as the ideal battlefield.

The champions' physique, conditioning and – now – fitness is fairly forbidding and there was a step-up in performance all around: as well as Quaid, Dan and Tom Morrissey, Darragh O'Donovan to name a few.

I don’t know if it was their emphasis on confrontation or simply fatigue but Waterford’s hurling wasn’t anywhere as good as in recent weeks – there were times when they needed a second touch to get control, which is fatal against Limerick.

Waterford's puck-outs were under pressure but what were they to do? Go long and the ball is landing on Diarmaid Byrnes and the outstanding Kyle Hayes; go short and the ball-carrier is swallowed up in the middle third.

The game got away from them after the first water break, as Cian Lynch began to turn up the dial and every one of the Limerick forwards scored from play. They won that phase by 0-11 to 0-4 and that was that.

I was particularly impressed with Limerick’s discipline. They tackled with the chest rather than using arms and hurleys, which suggested that they’ve done some work on this aspect of their game. It was ironic so that they picked up a red card.

Peter Casey’s foul didn’t look great on review and unless they can argue that the bars of the helmet got entangled – which actually can happen – they’ll be doing without him in the final, which is a blow for the player.