WE'LL have to wait and see if Cork's calculated gamble to field a weakened team for this league game pays off.
They clearly weren't concerned about winning on Saturday night but they wouldn't have wanted to get shown up to the degree they were by John Kiely's side either. You could see that in the three changes for the second half. Daire Connery, Declan Dalton and Robert Downey were replaced but there was no shortage of underperforming Rebels.
Even a class act like Mark Coleman was under relentless pressure from the throw-in, hounded on every possession while also trying to curb the enthusiasm of playmaker supreme Cian Lynch.
Limerick came in badly needing a victory but also keen to lay down a marker, which they duly did. The hosts were hungrier and more skillful in the early stages, 0-6 to 0-1 before Cork had got their second wind. By the first water break, it was 0-11 to 1-3, and 19 scoring chances created to five.
The short running game was shut down by Limerick pushing up on Patrick Collins' puck-outs, where turnovers yielded a succession of scores. Robbie O'Flynn and Conor Cahalane did well to create the opportunity for Jack O'Connor's first goal, but the response to that green flag said it all about Limerick's excellence, they picked off the next five points to open that five-point gap.
O'Flynn was one of the few Rebels to show a bit of life in that grim opening period, while Shane Kingston nabbed a point and could have had another goal. The stats didn't lie though. Cork had just 1-3 from play on the board by the half-time whistle. Their decision-making was poor but that was a testament to the dominance of the All-Ireland champions as their own shortcomings.
They could have a man-marker in mind for that detail next month, with Coleman in a free, deeper role. Lynch moved to midfield in the second half anyway, which suggests Limerick had seen enough of that potential showdown as well.
With Patrick Horgan, Niall Cashman and Luke Meade brought on, Cork were better in the closing 35-odd minutes and their goal threat was a theme. Jack O'Connor, very dangerous all through, brilliantly executed a bat finish for his second goal. O'Connor might have had a third goal and Kingston twice went close, before sub Alan Connolly was hauled back when racing through.
Clutching at straws perhaps, given Limerick's superior strength and confidence, and given the favourites had 21 wides to go with their 33 points, goals might not matter in four weeks. Overall though, despite the negative vibe from a Cork perspective, there were positives at the Gaelic Grounds.
Shane Barrett was lively on his introduction, another youngster in the mix for the main event.
Whatever happens on July 3, the return of supporters for the Munster semi-final, which has been selected as one of the trial sporting events post-lockdown, will add hugely to the occasion. It's in Semple Stadium with the home-and-away arrangement between the counties on hold, better again.
Cork and Limerick didn't meet regularly in the noughties but the championship clashes in 2013 and '14 were Munster finals and electrified by the packed stadiums those games always draw. In 2018, there was a draw in the Páirc and an epic All-Ireland semi-final at a heaving Croker, that sizzled with atmosphere. The crowd was smaller for the 2019 joust in the Gaelic Grounds but the ground crackled on a muggy Sunday afternoon as Cork pulled off an ambush.
The Shannonsiders rebounded to land the Munster crown in '19 and then swept all before them in 2020 as Cork struggled with their identity upon Kieran Kingston's return. Rebooting the panel, ruthlessly, last winter has worked so far but now the challenge is to find the right balance between pace and power for the summer, and deciding which young guns are better served from starting or finishing matches.
It was to the Cork players and the management's credit that they'd secured five league points from the opening three games which reduced the pressure to get a result in Limerick on Saturday night. Tim O'Mahony, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Seán O'Donoghue weren't even togged, with Patrick Horgan and Luke Meade on the bench, and they'd all have to be in the first 15 next month.
To be fair Limerick, were without Kyle Hayes, Seamus Flanagan, Gearóid Hegarty, Nickie Quaid and more. It'll be a very different game in the championship.
And a very different result, Cork hope.