ON a bumper Sunday for hurling enthusiasts, it was remarkable three of the Allianz hurling league quarter-finals yesterday were claimed by Division 1B teams. Waterford lost to Galway and Kilkenny gave way to Wexford, but nearer home another shock result saw Limerick take the spoils against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn and book a last four place against the Tribesmen in a fortnight.
To put this in perspective, the home team had finished second in Division 1A while the Shannonsiders finished third in Division 1B. There was a strong case to suggest a home win, and that because of the different grades they wouldn’t be at the same level of intensity. The shackles were off though for this knock-out game, and it was evident from early on John Kiely’s men were up for this derby challenge in the Rebel’s own back yard. They proved to the 7,892 in attendance they did have the stomach for the battle.
This was the third meeting between these Munster rivals this year with the Leesiders victorious twice. And for good measure, Limerick hadn’t beaten them in a league game for quite some time and with the fear of relegation now gone, they went out and played with such freedom. They had a point to prove too, having gone missing for the second-half of the Galway game the week before, so there was argument for a backlash here as well.
If there was any doubt about this Limerick outfit, David Dempsey’s goal after 11 minutes gave a glimpse of what was to come. The outstanding Gearoid Hegarty, who defensively Cork found hard to contain, worked so hard to win a dirty ball very close to the end line. He managed to move it across the goal where Dempsey was waiting to finish to the net. The Rebels, as expected, fought back and took the lead on the run-up to half-time when Luke Meade fired home. A brilliant low ball from Lorcán McLoughlin setting up the Newcestown player who showed his speed with a searing run from the 40.
Cork failed to push on though, which is so disappointing, especially after the recent excellent results they grinded out against All Ireland champions Tipperary and Waterford. They finished the group stages of the league strong and everybody would agree they appeared to be a team going in the right direction. But, that word consistency comes into question once again. When things go against them how do they react?
It was a level playing field at half-time, 1-9 apiece, and the match was tied six times thereafter. With four minutes remaining, plus four additional minutes, the scoreboard read 1-17 apiece. The game was there for the taking, for whoever wanted it most. However, the visitors reeled off the next three white flags, sub John Fitzgibbon recording their final score. All Cork could muster was a 65m converted by Mark Coleman. In fact, they didn’t score at all from play in the fourth quarter.
When they go direct and with pace, the likes of Alan Cadogan is unbeatable.
The corner-forward is hurling as well as anyone else. But, the supply to the Douglas man dried up. Cork’s lack of a goal-scoring threat is a worry too. In their five league games, they have only bagged two – one against Dublin and the other against Waterford. They need to be raising more green flags if they are progress through the summer months.
We must realise too Cork do have a lot of very young hurlers on their starting 15, good young hurlers it must be said, who are trying to find their feet week-in week-out. They have added an awful lot to Cork hurling and while they are improving all the time, supporters must be patient. These hurlers should prove superior when the county goes into U21 championship mode. I feel this will give them an edge, and hopefully the Red and White will reap their rewards then.
So much is expected and in such a short space of time. It reminds us of what Kieran Kingston stated during the week, when he said he was worried about all the hype surrounding the Premier win. He was at pains to dampen expectations, knowing only too well that Tipperary are that bit behind. The celebrations that followed Liam McCarthy last September meant they wintered longer than other teams.
There are fine margins in this ultra-competitive league. Just look at last year’s champions Clare who ended up fighting relegation. Of course, we mustn’t forget Cork were shorn of key personnel too yesterday – Shane Kingston, Damien Cahalane, Conor Lehane and Daniel Kearney (Kearney did come in as a second-half substitute). Lehane and Kingston will provide further options nearer goal. Hegarty was Limerick’s main man in attack, a focal point up front. And Shane Dowling notched nine points, eight of these clinically posted from frees.
The win guarantees Limerick, who will face into their eighth season in the second tier in 2018, at least one more competitive match. Meanwhile, Cork’s thoughts will turn to the Munster championship and Tipperary in the quarter-final on May 21, while Limerick play Clare in the semi-final two weeks’ later.