WHATEVER about there being no relegation, Division 1A of the NHL continues to interest us and it’s ideally set up now for the final round of group games on Sunday.
Limerick are home and dry into the quarter-finals but the other three places are still up for grabs.
Things were not looking too positive for Cork after the opening two rounds when they lost to Kilkenny and Wexford but things can change very quickly in any league and they are now right back in the mix for qualification after the victories over Clare and Limerick. Another victory over another Munster team and they’ll be in the last eight.
In fact, all three games next weekend, Cork and Tipp, Clare and Limerick and Wexford and Kilkenny all carry significance and maybe we’ll get a few games that will really ignite the competition.
From a Cork perspective, the picture is much brighter now than it had been and the victory on the Ennis Road last Sunday must have pleased John Meyler. He’s never one to get too carried away, mindful of what stage the year is at and that all the counties are not playing with a full hand.
However, there was much to admire about the win over the All-Ireland champions on their home sod. The team had to exhibit a lot of character coming down the home stretch when Limerick clawed back a one-time nine-point deficit to draw level with just four minutes of regulation time remaining.
As it turned out, there were eight minutes with four added on for stoppages and injuries. There might have been a sense in the small Cork attendance that this was Croke Park last season all over again when Cork gave up a six-point advantage to subsequently lose the All-Ireland semi-final.
Sunday’s game carried nowhere near the same relevance but it was important, nonetheless, that Cork didn’t lose. Limerick’s supporters in the 13,000 plus attendance really got behind their men in the closing minutes and a lesser Cork team on the day might have caved in.
But they didn’t, rising to the challenge and ending up with what was and could turn out to be a very significant victory. Cork certainly deserved their victory but you also got a sense afterwards that Limerick weren’t overly dejected at the outcome.
From the attendance, you could see that the hype about this team was getting out of control a bit and some supporters were really getting carried away and this loss might calm things a little. There was much to admire about a lot of things that Cork did and, in stark contrast to a week earlier when there was an over-dependence on Patrick Horgan to get scores, the spread of scorers was much better this time.
Cork finished with nine different players troubling the umpires and that cannot be a bad thing. The two newcomers on duty, Dan Dooley and Robert Downey can be pleased with their debuts.
It was a big occasion for both, in front of a huge Limerick following but they both contributed.
Dooley took his brace of points very well, he was just wide with another attempt and he also hit an upright. Not bad for starters.
Downey did not do too much wrong either, marking Gearoid Hegarty, he kept him to a point and he’ll gain a lot of confidence from this day.
Aidan Walsh ended up with just a point but his work-rate continues to increase and he’s starting to show the benefit now of hurling on a more regular basis.
Tim O’Mahony continues to grow into the number six jersey and he has been one of Cork’s most consistent performers in this league campaign. At this moment in time, he has to be in pole spot for the jersey for the championship.
Bill Cooper and Cormac Murphy are continuing to battle in the middle of the field and Danny Kearney’s effort and enterprise can never be questioned.
A word too about Patrick Collins, who continues to be an excellent deputy for Anthony Nash. Nash is the undisputed number one but it’s important to have an able lieutenant and the Ballinhassig man is certainly that.
He had no chance with Peter Casey’s goal but he made a sublime save from Gearoid Hegarty.
Most of the Fitzgibbon Cup boys will be back in the equation now although John Meyler spoke sensibly about giving Darragh Fitzgibbon a rest.
The Charleville young gun has been on the go now for almost an entire 12 months with club, Cork, Cork U21s and UCC.
He has been injured in that spell and resting him for two or three weeks makes absolute sense because he is going to be a huge player when the big days in May arrive.
The bottom line in everything is that when the championship comes around there won’t be a puck of a ball between any of the five Munster teams.
In fact, what was a ferocious battle for the three qualifying places last season might be even more so this time and that’s certainly saying something.