IN Cork’s opening three encounters in the National Hurling League the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.
Five points out of six represented a fine innings and a number of new players that had been brought into the panel had given a good account of themselves.
However, the game in the Gaelic Grounds last Saturday night was a bit of a reality check, an eye-opener and that for now this Cork squad remains a work in progress.
When analysing any league game one must always take into consideration that what transpires in that game might not be repeated if the same two sides collide again in the championship.
League and championship are poles apart, always have been, always will be and reading too much into a game in the secondary competition can leave one with a red face further down the line.
Cork and Limerick will meet again in the Munster championship semi-final in less than a month’s time and the result last Saturday night might stand for nothing.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that Cork were a distant second-best in this league game and Limerick simply overwhelmed them. Limerick scored 33 times, had 20 wides which represented 53 shots on goal in the 70 minutes. Cork scored 12 times less than their opponents and had less than half of Limerick’s wides.
It was a very difficult night at the office for some of Cork’s younger guns and they won’t be in contention for championship places when the championship gets up and running.
The first-half display by the visitors was desperately poor. In fact, hardly anything went right for them and the 10-point gap at the break could have been much more.
Cork could hardly buy possession from their own puck-outs and there were problems all over the park, too many turnovers by Limerick being key. In that first half there was a huge gulf between the two teams.
Of course, it must be noted that Cork fielded without key players who will be integral to the championship plan but Limerick fielded without twice as many who will be in serious contention for championship places.
To be fair, Cork were far better after half-time and the introduction of Patrick Horgan, Luke Meade and Niall Cashman stabilised things to a greater degree.
The best of the Cork players was Jack O’Connor who took his two goals very well and he could have had one or two more.
It was his best game in a Cork senior jersey and he’s a very viable championship contender now.
From a positive perspective, Cork added two more goals to their league tally and it took some big interventions to deny them a few more.
Diarmuid Byrnes, who was Limerick’s outstanding player over the 70 minutes, made a wonderful block to deny Shane Kingston an almost certain goal and Richie English had to make a goal-line clearance before that.
O’Connor’s second goal was a real gem. The manner with which he turned English and delivered from a very narrow angle illustrated what he can do.
Alan Connolly made an impact too when he came on and a penalty should have been awarded under the new rules when he was fouled in the arc.
Limerick’s desire was far greater than Cork’s on the night and it was clear, irrespective of the close proximity of the championship meeting between the sides, that they were going to put down a marker.
Two of their young newcomers, Colin Coughlan and Cathal O’Neill shared four points between them and look to be outstanding prospects.
Cork did field a very young team on Saturday night and a more experienced one will be on the starting block in a few weeks, that has to be the case because some of the newcomers need more time to be ready for the intensity of the championship.
Next Sunday’s final league outing against Galway should give us a greater insight into what the championship team will be and it looks at this stage that Colm Spillane and Bill Cooper won’t figure because of injury.
John Kiely and Kieran Kingston have selection issues to deal with before the championship showdown but you’d prefer to be in Kiely’s situation who certainly has the greater number of real alternative options.
Tim O’Mahony, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Sean O’Donoghue, Patrick Horgan, Alan Cadogan, and Luke Meade did not start on Saturday night, they will in the championship outing.
The Galway game now represents the last opportunity for some of the new players that have been brought in to make the desired statement.
No matter what transpires between now and the July 4 championship engagement, Limerick will be warm favourites to begin the defence of their titles successfully and Cork will be long odds underdogs.
In the past Cork teams have handled that situation very well and answered those who wrote them off.
Maybe they’ll do so again but it’s going to be a very tall order against a side that appear to be timing their preparations to perfection.
It will be a lot different in Thurles but Limerick look to be in a far more advantageous position right now.
Only time will tell how relevant last Saturday’s game will be.