TWO visits to the Gaelic Grounds last season yielded Cork’s two best performances of the season Limerick ended up winning both of the competitions in which they lost to Cork, the league and Munster championship, but it still showed how keen the rivalry now is.
The first of at least two meetings this season goes on at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday before their championship clash in May at the same venue.
For the record, Cork won the league encounter between the two on a scoreline of 2-21 to 1-21 while it was 1-26 to 1-19 in the championship, a surprise result as Cork had been so disappointing against Tipp a week before.
As the season progressed Limerick, as Munster kingpins, were desperately unlucky to lose to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Rebels’ season petered out with a quarter-final loss to the Cats when only Patrick Horgan, with 3-10, and Alan Cadogan, were at their best.
Cork and Limerick are currently bracketed on four points apiece in the league but Kieran Kingston’s side have a game more played after the Limerick and Waterford game was postponed.
John Kiely’s charges have looked the part in beating All-Ireland champions Tipperary and Galway. The win over Tipp was notable for the fact that in that game they didn’t hurl at all in the opening half, trailing by nine.
But they were a transformed unit thereafter, making some key changes and ending up winning the game on a scoreline of 2-14 to 0-18.
In the victory over Galway, Limerick were much more consistent over the 70 minutes.
Kiely has the best squad at his disposal and that there is no safety net for any of the players such is the intense competition for places.
In the win over Tipperary they had Will O’Donoghue coming in as a sub and setting up two goals. Sean Finn and Gearoid Hegarty came in from the bench as well.
Against Galway, Cian Lynch got just three minutes as a blood sub while Tom Condon, Diarmuid Byrnes and Aaron Gillane didn’t start.
Despite Tipperary winning the McCarthy Cup last season it was perceived in many quarters that Limerick were the best team and might well have been in the All-Ireland final if a late decision for what was a blatant 65 had not gone against them in the semi.
You get the feeling that they’ll be right up there for it this season to right what an obvious wrong.
In contrast to last season, Cork have them at home twice this time and maybe that’s a slight advantage.
Cork have been a mixed bag in their three games against Waterford, Tipperary and Westmeath. They might have lost by just a point against Waterford after shooting 17 wides but the performance did not receive too many rave notices.
Against Tipperary there was a marked improvement and in another tight game they came out on the right side by two points after they had repelled a late challenge or two for what would have been a winning Tipp goal.
They were, by all accounts, lucky enough to survive against Westmeath last Sunday, a Westmeath team that had been hammered by Galway and had also lost by nine points to Waterford.
Conditions in Mullingar were extremely bad and Cork did show quite a bit of character to come back with the win. However, the lack of scores from too many of the starting six forwards might be of some concern Given the depth of resources available on Shannonside, Limerick will bring a strong starting 15 to Cork with plenty of options on the bench too.
This is an important game for Cork even if the championship clash between the same two counties a few months later is infinitely more important.
A loss on Sunday would make things difficult for Cork in making the knockout stages and they, in all probability, would need a win in Salthill in the final group game against Galway who tackle Waterford on Sunday.
The Rebels are without the injured Conor Lehane, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Seán O’Donoghue here, while Damien Cahalane is suspended.
Limerick’s overall form to date has been better and they’ll probably come in as favourites with a squad that looks stronger.