ANOTHER Munster championship game that got away from Cork, after a disjointed second half marred by over-elaboration, poor shooting and even worse option-taking out the field could have seen 14-man Limerick get the win.
The draw should still be enough for Cork to get into the Munster final, provided they are more ruthless and composed when they face a depleted Waterford in two weeks. They’ve four points, top the table, and are unbeaten as they take a rest following three successive matches. That’s some consolation after what was a disappointment from a Cork perspective, but a belter of a clash, full of drama and tension.
Darragh Fitzgibbon, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan came up with a highlight reel of brilliant scores, while Diarmuid Byrnes’ fielding, Cian Lynch’s trickery and the shooting of Tom Morrissey and Seamus Flanagan ignited Limerick. Anyone questioning whether the new format would take the edge from Munster hurling got their answer here.
If Limerick buried a goal chance when leading by two points with time running out, it could have been worse for Leesiders. Having survived that mad sequence, cracking scores from Patrick Horgan, Fitzgibbon and a Horgan free after he was hauled back nosed them in front on 70 minutes, only for Kyle Hayes to pounce on a Chris Joyce clearance in added time, before Seamus Harnedy was blocked down with the last puck.
Whatever about retaining the Munster title, there are nagging doubts about whether the Rebels can be in the mix for the All-Ireland after a patchy display where even marquee men like Harnedy, Mark Coleman and Damien Cahalane struggled. It didn’t feel like they learned the lessons from Thurles when Tipp reeled them in.
Reflecting on the game overall John Meyler’s charges could have few complaints. They had an extra man from the 25th minute when Aaron Gillane was punished for a petulant swipe on Seán O’Donoghue, yet it never told.
At that juncture, Cork were 0-10 to 0-8 up and hurling decently, even if Limerick’s ability to grab primary possession and drive at their markers all over the field was asking serious questions of a side in action for the third time in 13 days. The hosts were the architects of their own downfall, though Limerick married the ferocity you associate with them to quality finishing.
While they fluffed that late goal chance, they’d only five wides to Cork’s 12. Limerick’s economy in attack was a sign of their growing maturity.
Cork’s style involves support running and clever distribution, but when it breaks down it leads to costly turnovers. That happened over and over in the second half here, despite hurling against 14.
The management made a couple of switches at half-time, taking off Dean Brosnan and O’Donoghue, who was on a yellow. Luke Meade came in and nabbed and point and an assist and was busy in the half-forward line, but Tim O’Mahony – introduced up front against Tipp – wasn’t commanding at centre-back.
Coleman dropped from six to the free role in the full-back line but he was caught in possession too often. The alteration in defence undoubtedly destabilised that sector. Sars’ Conor O’Sullivan, who operated as a loose corner-back before, might have done better, or even Eoin Cadogan, who has been left in reserve despite a fine league campaign.
Perhaps the low sun over the City End Terrace had an impact on the quality of ball the midfield and defenders were able to send in during the second half, but Cork certainly didn’t stretch the Limerick backs. Horgan and Shane Kingston looked on song, but they were starved of a supply for long spells.
In bursts Lehane was twisting and turning to devastating effect too, which was why the sloppy short passing around the defence was so infuriating. For a team with classy forwards, Cork spend too long working possession through the lines and take too many pot-shots from distance.
They’ve some time now on the training ground to refine their approach and there’s the sense that when it all comes together, the Rebels’ blinding pace and skill levels will see them rip another team apart.
For Limerick there were a host of positives.
Whether the Treaty would have won if Gillane wasn’t dismissed, had Lehane been punished for tangling with Richie English, or if captain Declan Hannon didn’t limp off after six minutes is moot. They unquestionably added to their growing reputation as prime contenders for provincial glory.
It’s quite likely these teams will meet again in the Munster final. How bad!