THE CORK U21s couldn’t be faulted for their effort, heart and honesty in Limerick.
It doesn’t get harder than being on the road, missing key players, taking on a serious team and being left raging at a poor refereeing performance.
While Rebel hurling might be flying high – and this side managed to keep that momentum going with a last-gasp victory against Waterford – they were always going to be up against it last night. The absence of senior stars Darragh Fitzgibbon and Luke Meade, as well as Billy Hennessy from the Barrs who stood out against the Déise, meant they were massive underdogs.
Cork died with their boots on despite being seven behind after 15 minutes and six down early in the second half. It was gutsy but they didn’t hurl with enough conviction and power to complete the Rebel clean sweep in Munster.
The Shannonsiders annihilated Clare and Tipp in their past two games and have a team loaded with talent, the core of which reached the minor All-Ireland three years ago. They’re good enough to go all the way this time.
Undoubtedly they were the better team on this occasion, particularly in their clinical opening 15 minutes, when they capitalised on the wind to build up a 0-7 to no score advantage. Try as they might, with Mark Coleman showing all his class as a sweeper, and Eoghan Murphy, Michael O’Halloran, David Griffin and Shane Kingston battling to the end, Cork could only claw at that significant lead.
However, John Meyler’s charges certainly weren’t helped by Rory McGann. The Rebels couldn’t catch a break from the ref across the 60-plus minutes, though a final tally of 1-11 was never going to be enough either.
The wind was the type that carried Dorothy off to meet the wizard of Oz. Cork could have done with it at their backs from the off, and it didn’t help that they coughed up the first two points after half-time.
The absence of the suspended Fitzgibbon and the injured Meade was especially telling in the first half. Fitzgibbon’s direct running would have facilitated a smoother support game against the wind, while Meade’s covering and shooting from outfield was sorely missed, even allowing for Coleman’s excellence as a sweeper.
That’s sport though. You’ve to play with the cards you’re dealt. No one from Cork will be having too much sympathy for Waterford if Tadhg de Burca’s red card is upheld and he misses the All-Ireland semi next month.
There were positives, even in defeat.
Tim O’Mahony’s goal was brilliantly direct and kept his side in it at the break. Even if he got the benefit of the doubt with a few extra steps, his improvised one-handed finish was stunning.
Apart from one turnover, Shane Kingston didn’t get involved in the opening quarter but he then picked off two terrific points into the breeze. He was unlucky when another couple of efforts tailed wide and could have had a goal in added time but his stinging drive whizzed over. After being smothered in the game against Waterford that was a confidence boost ahead of August 13.
In the latter stages the ref suddenly left the game flow having been ultra-finicky up to then, and Cork were able to force a few turnovers. Griffin and sub Conor Cahalane – with shades of his brother Damien’s run against Clare – drove out from the rearguard to set up scores. Another replacement Jack O’Connor showed the pace he had at the death in Walsh Park to open up the Limerick full-back line.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough and as frustrating as some of the ref’s decision were, Cork never led and didn’t ever look like winning. They’ll learn lessons for next year when most are underage again.
All that will stand to these players going forward, even if the bitter taste of defeat is still fresh in their mouths.