Fitzgibbon and Coleman showed great maturity when the game was on the line

Fitzgibbon and Coleman showed great maturity when the game was on the line
Darragh Fitzgibbon celebrates scoring a point. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

ON Sunday lunchtime at Na Piarsaigh grounds, a 10-minute stroll from the Gaelic Grounds, there was a festival atmosphere to mark the All-Ireland champions’ first game in the Munster series.

The sun was beaming down on the Limerick powerhouse’s fantastic complex, their U12s were having a great battle with Ballincollig, while youngsters from Carrigtwohill and Blarney were there enjoying the ‘hurling fanzone’. 

The Ballincollig and Na Piarsaigh U12 teams before the Limerick v Cork clash.
The Ballincollig and Na Piarsaigh U12 teams before the Limerick v Cork clash.

Spin FM were pumping out the tunes and the vibes were hugely positive from the Shannonsiders.

It was hard to question the locals’ confidence. 

The green machine had razed Waterford in the league final and Cork were putrid for the most part in losing to Tipp. But a week is a long time in sport and league isn't championship.

Both might be clichés but they held up. When the final whistle sounded, Cork were seven-point victors and full value for it.

What was so satisfying was that the Rebels didn’t hide away from the issues that left them miles off the pace against Tipp. John Meyler and his selectors Donal O’Mahony and Fraggie Murphy made sweeping changes to the team.

Some of the calls – leaving out Shane Kingston for the more physical Aidan Walsh and replacing rookie centre-back Tim O’Mahony with Mark Ellis, who hadn’t even been on the bench a week earlier – were bold. Yet there was a logic to their approach, to counter Limerick’s physicality and swarm the middle third.

Peter Casey and Gearoid Hegarty tackle Robert Downey. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Peter Casey and Gearoid Hegarty tackle Robert Downey. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The players weren’t looking for excuses either. They were slated after the opening round and responded with absolute fire and fury. Speaking to Eoin Cadogan, Anthony Nash and Walsh afterward they admitted they’d left the supporters and themselves down against Tipp and that they had to accept the criticism, however severe.

There was none of this ‘everyone wrote us off’ guff. Cork are an underrated team given they’re pursuing a third Munster title and can harbour real regrets about their last two All-Ireland semi-final losses, but sure so what?

Does it matter where the Rebels are in the pecking order or if the core of the former hurlers in the media don’t fancy them to get back to Croker? Nope.

Cork have the talent to lift Liam McCarthy but will always be doubted until they deliver on the biggest stage. They can’t afford to strut around like they’re kings on the back of one win, however sweet, and will need to bring serious intensity to the Waterford game in two and a half weeks and beyond that to Ennis.

For these few days though we can savour their excellence on enemy soil. The return of Alan Cadogan to championship action for the first time since August 2017 was wonderful, while Daniel Kearney showed why he was so close to an All-Star last summer.

The leadership of Seamus Harnedy, Bill Cooper and Eoin Cadogan was colossal, while Patrick Horgan – despite hitting seven wides uncharacteristically – proved again why he’s the wristiest forward in the country.

Horgan gets past Mike Casey for the goal. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Horgan gets past Mike Casey for the goal. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

A standout factor from rewatching the game was the maturity Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman showed.

Newcomers Niall O’Leary and Robert Downey were fierce solid, Deccie Dalton lobbed over two great scores off the bench, and Luke Meade had a fabulous second half, covering acres of ground and nailing 0-2 as well, but Fitzgibbon and Coleman were genuinely top class.

Coleman was far tighter defensively than he was seven days before and with 10 minutes of normal time Coleman pulled down the sliotar over the head of Tom Morrissey. Heroic stuff as Cork protected the same six-point lead they’d squandered to Limerick last season.

For Fitzgibbon’s late point, though Seamus Harnedy provided the pop pass, it was created by Coleman hounding Cian Lynch on the flank and then picking the ball up with a magical flick. 

Fitzgibbon was everywhere too, getting fouled for three frees, but more tellingly getting the hook in on Lynch as he drove towards the goal in the latter stages.

Niall O'Leary and Darragh Fitzgibbon. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Niall O'Leary and Darragh Fitzgibbon. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

We’d seen in the previous two seasons what devastating attacking threats Fitzgibbon and Coleman are but to cement their status as elite hurlers they need to become more rounded. They were as cool and calm as ever last Sunday but bared their teeth when it mattered.

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