CORK failed to collect the first silverware of the 2020 season coming up four points short to an impressive Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night in the McGrath Cup final.
In front of an ever growing audience at the Limerick venue, the rebels started well, lost their way in the middle and ultimately failed to shake a home side that showed plenty to suggest they had targeted this particular pre-season competition.
Cork came into this one clearly focussed on experimentation as a host of young stars took their place in the starting 15.
A full forward line of Damien Gore, Cathail O’Mahony and Michael Hurley showed clearly that Ronan McCarthy was still in the making his mind up phase however the likes of Matty Taylor, Ian Maguire, Thomas Clancy and Ciaran Sheehan provided experience in the attacking and middle thirds of the field.
For Limerick, this one was all about the attack and in particular their full forward Danny Neville.
The Ballysteen clubman had the game of his life, smacking over seven super points running his marker ragged from the first to the final whistle.
Neville was ably assisted by Seamus Carroll and Jamie Lee with the duo landing half dozen points between them.
Cork looked sharp from the off with Gore landing a pair of early game monsters from out on the right touchline. Mitchelstown’s Cathail O’Mahony also found the black spot in an opening 10 that saw Limerick match the visitors with points from Seamus O’Carroll, Robert Childs and Danny Neville.
Limerick took the lead soon after with a pointed free from Lee before a booming effort from Tommy Griffin opened up the game’s first two point margin.
Cian Kiely hit back for the men in red however the home side went through the gears landing four of the next five points to lead by four as the game hit 25 minutes.
A point from Tadgh Corkery kept Cork in touch before another Limerick brace, this time from Ian Corbett and Adrian Enright, showed all on the cork side of the fence that this Treaty side meant business.
Sheehan landed a tasty score off the left but again Limerick hit back with a point from the onrushing Cillian Fahy.
Cork cut the gap to four (O’Mahony free) just before the sides headed for the tunnel (0-12 – 0-08) after a foul on Matty Taylor which resulted in Limerick’s corner back Paul Maher receiving a spell in the sin-bin.
Cork started much better in the second period with nice scores from Sheehan and Gore however Limerick showed they were not likely to roll over here and points from Corbett, Lee, and a brace of points (after marks) from Neville pushed the Shannonsiders six clear.
Cork made a raft of changes with some big hitters like Brian Hurley Killian O’Hanlon and Sean White entering the fray and while they continued to show frailties at the back the forwards bagged the next four scores to put this one right back in the melting pot.
Limerick looked rattled as Cork upped the ante however credit to the home side they dug deep and thanks to points from Lee, O’Carroll and two magnificent scores from Neville they collected their first McGrath Cup title in 15 years.
Cork will look to recover quickly from this one as they now sit just two weeks away from an opening round Division 3 clash with Offaly.
For now it's back to the training ground and work on those areas that left them down against Limerick.
Scorers for Limerick: D Neville 0-7 (0-2 mark); J Lee (0-3f), S Carroll 0-3 each; I Corbett 0-2, C Fahy, T Griffin, A Enright, R Childs, M O’Donovan 0-1 each.
Cork: D Gore, C O’Mahony (0-2f) 0-3 each; C Sheehan, T Clancy, B Hurley (0-1f) 0-2 each; T Corkery, C Kiely, S White, K O’Hanlon 0-1 each.
LIMERICK:D O’Sullivan; P Maher, B Fanning, M Donovan; T McCarthy, I Corbett, R Childs; T Griffin, A Enright; P De Brún, C Fahy, S O’Carroll; J Lee, D Neville, P Begley.
Subs: T Childs for T Griffin (40), G Stack for P Begley (48), J Naughton for P De Brún (55), P Scanlon for J Lee (65), D Lyons for A Enright (66).
CORK:A Casey; S Ryan, A Browne, P Ring; K Crowley, S Meehan, C Kiely; I Maguire, T Clancy; T Corkery, C Sheehan, M Taylor; D Gore, C O’Mahony, M Hurley.
Subs: S White for M Hurley (ht), B Hurley for C Sheehan (47), K O’Hanlon for T Clancy (50), S Forde for T Corkery (53), J O’Rourke for D Gore (53).
Referee:B Griffin (Kerry)