NOT a victory on the scoreboard for the Cork minor hurling squad, but this 0-19 to 1-16 outcome felt like a win on some many different levels yesterday in LIT Gaelic Grounds.
And another significant step forward for John Considine and his management team.
This also represents a valuable one point on the road against a decent Limerick outfit who looked like they might sneak it in injury time.
Cue Ballygiblin supremo Darragh Flynn who showed nerves of steel to rifle over the equalising score from a placed ball way out the field.
Flynn’s confidence was sky-high all afternoon, his tally of 1-10 tells its own story.
No doubt about it, this is a huge result for the Rebels, and no mean feat given they were up against a county that is still walking tall following last year’s senior heroics. As the Shannonside crowd swelled towards the end of this encounter, the visitors’ assignment got bigger. For long stages, Limerick put it up to Cork.
Three points now from two games augurs well for a lengthy summer. Yes, it is early days but so far these players have done everything that has been asked of them. Like Limerick, they have a reasonable sprinkling of last year’s panel, so this contest was always going to be defining.
There was just the one (enforced) personnel change from the first-round triumph over Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh a week earlier with Kanturk’s Colin Walsh – who upon his introduction that day scored two great points – coming in for the injured Daire O’Leary, and Flynn switching to the forty which proved to be a masterstroke in itself.
This time it was another Kanturk player – wing-back Brian O’Sullivan who led them out onto the pitch The view of Considine is that he has many leaders, it was Sarsfields Daniel Hogan who did the honours the previous week.
After the best possible start for Cork – similar to Tipp in round 1 – the home side got to grips with them. Flynn nailed a marvellous goal a mere eight minutes in when Walsh and Jack Cahalane combined brilliantly to put the centre-forward through.
Dominant Cork led 1-4 to 0-2, however, Limerick with the breeze behind them, worked their way back. Patrick Kirby – son of former Limerick hurler Gary – was prominent around the middle third and gradually they began to pick their points. Cathal O’Neill, one of the stars of 2018, their main contributor as they grabbed the lead four minutes from the short whistle.
There was also an opportunity of a Limerick goal, but the red rearguard did well to keep them out. A barren spell of 16 minutes finally ended with Flynn splitting the posts at the end of normal time, only for skilful corner-forward Aidan O’Connor to hand the initiative back to Limerick in stoppage – a wonderful lead point that gave them an 0-9 to 1-5 interval advantage.
Cork resumed with a new midfield partnership following the loss of St Oliver Plunkett's defender Cian McCarthy before half-time. Luke Horgan moving to wing-back to shadow O’Neill while Leon Doocey came in to join Ethan Twomey in the middle of the park. It was Twomey who tied matters 1-7 to 0-10 at the beginning of the second half.
Whatever new Limerick manager Diarmuid Mullins – a nephew of former Dublin great Brian Mullins – said to his young guns at the break, they were far more focused. A run of seven points was only interrupted twice, Flynn and substitute Jack Carr with his very first touch.
Midway through the second half and Limerick had moved into a good place, 0-17 to 1-9 up.
Prompting a reassessment from management, Cork withdrew both their corner-forwards around this time. The aforementioned Carr (Fermoy) and Isaac Walsh (Lisgoold) were introduced. Battling Cork kept going and went about reducing the gap. Serious shifts were put in every position. They won four frees and considering Flynn’s form, they accepted them gladly.
Six minutes from time, there was nothing in it, 0-17 to 1-13.
The expected backlash from Limerick materialised and following a foul on Kirby, O’Neill eased them two clear. As well, Jack Franklin saved for Limerick while O’Connor had half a chance of a Limerick goal. There was a big performance in Cork, Hogan got on the ball while Flynn proved his immense value when he converted from out near the sideline. Level again (0-18 to 1-15).
Flynn missed a free. And when O’Neill drilled over his tenth point in the first minute of additional time, it appeared the Cork ship might have sailed. It took a massive collective effort before Flynn regained his composure to ensure a share of the spoils.
Cork remain unbeaten. They will enjoy a break and prepare for the next fixture which will take place on Leeside against Waterford - a Saturday evening billing on June 8 (5pm). The Déise will come with all guns blazing after their two opening round defeats to Clare and Tipperary respectively. That will leave Cork with their final outing in Ennis a week later.
For now, Cork sit top of the group on three points.