THINGS didn’t go Cork’s way in the Munster senior hurling league final at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night.
And while the second week in January is too early to judge any team, this was a disappointing night for the travelling fans among a 5,295-strong crowd.
It was a shock win for Limerick.
Limerick worked the ball and picked off their scores impressively, particularly in the second-half, and Barry Nash was man-of-the-match.
Limerick won the Munster hurling league in 2018 (this was their second in three years) and went on to be crowned All Ireland champions. Whether they will again in 2020 remains to be seen.
So where does this 1-32 to 0-20 defeat leave Cork?
The Munster senior hurling league gives game time to fringe players; they experience hurling at inter-county level. Kieran Kingston and his management team have also introduced players who won’t feature this year, but who may do later on. So, from that perspective, it has been worthwhile for Cork.
Still, Kingston’s hands are tied, because so many of his squad are lining out in the Fitzgibbon Cup (21 in total). UCC have the biggest number (14) of them, and, depending on how UCC progress in that tournament, Cork could remain understrength, and be without a number of starters, for the beginning of the National League.
When these players do become available, there will be a lot more options and a lot more competition for places. One of the positives for Cork was corner back, Colm Spillane, getting a full game under his belt since his long injury layoff. Outside him, in the half-back line, Chris O’Leary is playing with confidence, which is a boost.
In the forward line, Brian Turnbull and Sean Twomey are two of Kingston’s young talents and they stood out at different times.
The gap, however, between Cork and Limerick wasn’t expected to be 15 points. It was the second loss for Cork in four days, following on from the UCC game in the Canon O’Brien Cup, at the Mardyke on Tuesday night.
Cork named a panel of 22 for this final. Robert Downey was a late addition and was introduced to good effect midway through the second-half.
Three alterations were made from the Canon O’Brien Cup: Patrick Collins, Ryan Walsh, and Aidan Walsh replaced Anthony Nash, Tim O’Mahony, and Tommy O’Connell.
Limerick had a panel of 23 and made one change to the team they had announced earlier in the week, with Aaron Gillane coming into John Kiely’s side. He started at full-forward, marked by Eoin Cadogan. Gillane scored the only goal of the game, in the 10th minute. That was vital in giving Limerick an advantage. They had been trailing 0-3 to 0-5 at the time, but a long delivery from Darragh O’Donovan, after an exchange with influential captain, Cian Lynch, was spectacularly fetched by Gillane. He fired past Patrick Collins, from close range, to go ahead. That was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
By half-time, Limerick had moved 1-14 to 0-14 ahead. Their wide count was an issue (they had nine to Cork’s four) and there were fears it might cost them. They spent a long time in the dressing-room and whatever was said in there had an impact, because they tightened up considerably in the second-half.
The third-quarter statistics do not make good reading for Cork, despite bringing on captain, Patrick Horgan, and exciting prospect Shane Óg O’Regan. A Conor Lehane free and an Aidan Walsh point from play were Cork’s return, as Limerick took over, striking eight points.
The fourth-quarter examination was no better. Out-hit by 10 points to four — with just the one point from play, from Seamus Harnedy — Cork were at sixes and sevens, while Limerick were utterly dominant. The reason, we don’t know. Maybe Cork are training hard and that took its toll.
Of course, the absence of key players didn’t help, especially when you see the calibre of substitutions Limerick were able to make. Sean Finn and Gearoid Hegarty were the first to be introduced, together, in the 45th minute. And both received a huge roar from the vocal home support.
Cork lost their way badly in the closing stages. You could only admire Limerick’s strong finish, and their last seven points went unanswered and were all scored from play.
The Allianz National League will begin with Cork travelling to play Waterford on Sunday week.
Cork and Limerick will meet again in the league and in the Munster championship. Hopefully, those games will be very different to what happened on Saturday.