CORK set-up an old firm Munster U21 football final against Kerry after dominating the second-half of their semi-final with Limerick to won 2-10 to 0-10 at a misty Páirc Uí Rinn on Wednesday night.
They'll face a Jack O'Connor coached Kerry outfit on March 29 who easily dismissed Waterford in the other semi and is loaded with talent, given the Kingdom have won the last three All-Ireland minor titles.
The prospect of a first Limerick win over their hosts in 17 years looked a possibility at half-time, when they led by 0-9 to 1-4 and should have been further in front.
Limerick had a golden opportunity to open up a five-point gap after 24 minutes, when awarded a penalty for a foot block by Cork captain on the night, John Mullins, who challenged Hugh Burke. But, outstanding home keeper Ross Donovan dived smartly to his right to parry AJ O’Connor’s shot and give his side a much-needed boost after Limerick dominated for long spells.
And this despite Cork grabbing a fourth-minute goal in their first attack of the game, Sean Powter brilliantly creating the opportunity with a strong run and well-timed pass for Michael Dineen to slip the ball home from close range.
Such was the unease in the champions’ camp that senior player Michael Hurley and regular skipper Sean O’Donoghue were summoned from the bench during the opening period.
Cork finished the half by scoring their only two points from play, Hurley and Gary Murphy, who punched over his side’s fourth to leave them trailing by just at the break.
“We just couldn’t get to the pitch of the game,” said manager Sean Hayes afterwards. “Limerick showed the benefit of having played a championship game because their intensity took our players by surprise.
“But we had strong words at half-time and they had the desired effect in the second-half, when we became a lot more physical,” he added.
Cork imposed themselves immediately on the resumption and while the wide count eventually stretched to 11, having kicked six in the first-half, the sharpshooters began to find their range.
Brian Coakley had the confidence to shrug off earlier misses by setting the tone for the second-half by scoring after a minute before Stephen Sherlock levelled from a free and Coakley nudged Cork in front by 1-7 to 0-9 after 37 minutes.
It didn’t last long, though, as Burke equalised with his fifth free a minute later, but would later miss twice, when Limerick badly needed scores, which had dried up.
That was to be Limerick’s only score in the half and Cork took full advantage to press home at the other end, Powter’s industry again showing up well in creating a fine Sherlock point after 41 minutes.
Donovan was still called into action and needed to be alert to deal with two bombs which rained down on him in quick succession, expertly punching clear under pressure in the first and then reacting quickly to a ball rebounding high up an upright.
Hurley’s second point after 52 minutes made it 1-9 to 0-10 before there were claims for penalties on either side.
Cork appealed for a foot block on Powter as he shot for goal a couple of minutes later and then Sean Wilson and Brian Donovan clashed in front of the posts, but referee Rory Hickey wasn’t interested.
Any doubts of Cork qualifying for a seventh successive final were ended a minute into injury-time, when the energetic Powter teed up Hurley for the clinching second goal.
M Hurley 1-3, B Coakley 0-4, 2f, M Dineen 1-0, S Sherlock 0-2, 1f, G Murphy 0-1
R Donovan (Nemo Rangers); S Daly (Dohenys), J Mullins (Éire Óg), captain, S Wilson (Douglas); J O’Riordan (Carbery Rangers), A Browne (Newmarket), C Kiely (Ballincollig); E Lavers (Dohenys,) S O’Leary (Bantry Blues); B Coakley (Carrigaline), S Powter (Douglas), D Meaney (St Michael’s); G Murphy (Castletownbere), M Dineen (Naomh Aban), S Sherlock (St Finbarr’s).
M Hurley (Castlehaven) for Meaney 21, S O’Donoghue (Inniscarra) for O’Leary 27, L O’Donovan (Clonakilty) for Dineen half-time, S O’Donovan (Ilen Rovers) for Sherlock 55, M Buckley (Dohenys) for Coakley 59.