Ronan McCarthy has plenty to mull over after footballers' loss in the McGrath Cup

Ronan McCarthy has plenty to mull over after footballers' loss in the McGrath Cup
Damien Gore of Cork in action against Michael Donovan of Limerick during the McGrath Cup final. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

NO McGrath Cup for Cork, but no great sense that Saturday night’s loss at the LIT Gaelic Grounds was cause for crisis, either.

Obviously, a bit of silverware is never unwelcome but it wasn’t as if Ian Maguire would have been raising the trophy high at a homecoming on the Mall and then touring the schools of the county to give them half-days.

There was no margin of victory that would have made people think that Cork were firmly in the All-Ireland mix and so, by the same token, a loss shouldn’t be taken as a disaster.

Obviously, to lose was a disappointment and Ronan McCarthy and his management team will examine why it happened but this was always seen as a somewhat experimental team.

A year ago, Cork beat Limerick by 3-16 to 0-7 in Rathkeale in the opening game of the McGrath Cup, but that Cork side had eight of the team that would go on to record a similar victory in the championship in Páirc Uí Rinn in June; on Saturday, only three players from that summer encounter remained, with Limerick calling on seven from that match.

Mattie Taylor is tackled by Limerick's Tommy Griffin. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Mattie Taylor is tackled by Limerick's Tommy Griffin. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

And, while Cork had enjoyed big victories in seeing off Kerry and Tipperary in the group phase, the game in Tralee was against a shadow Kingdom side and could be taken with more of a pinch of salt.

Damien Gore and Cathal O’Mahony, stars of last year’s All-Ireland U20 victory, cut through Kerry at will but found life a bit more difficult on Saturday and that’s no bad thing, as Division 3 defences aren’t likely to be overly accommodating either. Both will benefit and improve in the long run.

Thomas Clancy kicked two good long-range points from midfield but it’s likely that he is still of most use to Cork in defence, while Ciarán Sheehan also had two points to his name but it was never going to be the case that he would immediately re-adapt to senior inter-county football.

When O’Mahony put Cork 0-3 to 0-2 ahead in the fifth minute after good work by captain Ian Maguire – who was the stand-out player for the Rebels throughout – there was no sense that would be the last time Cork led.

Cork's Ian Maguire and Limerick's Tommy Griffin in action. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Ian Maguire and Limerick's Tommy Griffin in action. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Even after Limerick’s star man, Danny Neville, levelled with the first of his seven points, Cork had more than a half-chance of a goal as Kevin Crowley’s delivery almost landed in Gore’s hands, Limerick full-back Brian Fanning doing well to avert the danger.

Limerick got the next two points though and for the final 28 minutes of the first half they outscored Cork by 0-9 to 0-5.

Despite Limerick corner-back Paul Maher – otherwise very impressive – being black-carded just before the break, Cork could only break even during the period where they had the extra man and then Limerick pushed six ahead, with Neville twice taking good attacking marks and sending over points from the kicks that followed.

The introductions of championships players Seán White, Killian O’Hanlon and Brian Hurley helped Cork to get more of a foothold, with Hurley and White on target along with Clancy as Cork reeled off four points in a row, but Limerick ensured that that was as close as they came, with strong collective defending.

Cork needed a goal but when the opportunities for green flags came, it was at the end other end, Neville coming in along the endline to palm across for Cillian Fahy, whose effort was saved by Anthony Casey, though a foul on Neville meant Jamie Lee was able to end 13 scoreless minutes for Limerick.

It was a momentum-changing score and Cork didn’t look like coming back to parity after that.

Jamie Lee of Limerick shoots as Thomas Clancy of Cork looks on. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Jamie Lee of Limerick shoots as Thomas Clancy of Cork looks on. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The Shannonsiders fashioned another chance when sub Gerard Stack fed Séamus O’Carroll but Casey stood up well to that.

It was informative in that Cork found the difficulty in trying to break down a team that has seized a lead and has men funnelled back.

Division 3 certainly won’t be a cakewalk and Cork will be seen as a scalp, so strong starts are important in terms of gathering momentum.

But the bottom line is that, if Cork had really wanted to prioritise winning, they would probably have done so.

When the serious stuff starts, Casey is likely to be the back-up goalkeeper to Micheál Martin, with Mark White taking a year out to spend time abroad.

Martin and the rest of his Nemo Rangers team-mates will be fed back into the panel and Cork will be stronger.

Beyond them, Mark Collins, James Loughrey, Liam O’Donovan, Ronan O’Toole, Nathan Walsh and Ruairí Deane are just some of the players who were absent from the panel on Saturday night.

When the Offaly game comes around on Saturday week, you can expect a more familiar Cork side taking to the field in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Hopefully, that will lead to a more familiar result, too, paving the way for a positive league campaign that leads to promotion.

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