THE Cork footballers will need to bring their A game in a tricky Munster SFC semi-final clash with Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds next weekend.
A place in this year’s provincial decider against either Kerry or Tipperary is on offer for the winners of what should be a intruiging encounter.
Cork make their 2021 championship debut on the back of an indifferent league campaign.
The highs of overcoming Laois, Clare and Westmeath were matched by a disappointing defeat to Kildare and injuries to key players.
Ronan McCarthy’s side retained their Division 2 status but will need to draw on the effort, work rate and finishing that saw the Rebels register the unlikeliest of Munster championship victories over Kerry late last year.
Limerick will have the benefit of a Munster Championship game under their belts when they line up to face Cork at the LIT Gaelic Grounds.
Billy Lee’s side put in a commendable display and accrued an eye-catching 4-18 in seeing off Waterford last time out.
There is little doubt that it promises to be a tough test for Ronan McCarthy’s team and especially considering Limerick will be eager to atone for the last time the sides met.
A rain-sodden Munster semi-final may have ended 3-18 to 0-6 in Cork’s favour back in June 2019 but only after the winners raced out of the traps and built an unassailable 10-point lead inside the first 12 minutes.
After that, Cork laboured for stretches of a game that was pretty much decided by half-time.
Clearly, Limerick are much improved since then so a similar, confident start is needed otherwise Cork could be in for an uncomfortable afternoon.
To underline the point, the Shannonsiders proved too strong for Waterford, 2-14 to 0-9, and pushed eventual Munster champions Tipperary all the way after extra-time in last year’s provincial semi-final defeat.
This year, Billy Lee’s team possess a number of dangerous attacking options including brothers, Hugh and Robbie Bourke.
Both players impressed the last day out. Add in hard working corner-forward Danny Neville and Limerick have an agile front line that is capable of pulling Cork’s defenders out of position.
That tactic worked well in the defeat of Waterford and permitted the likes of Iain Corbett and Cillian Fahy to make their presences felt.
Most tellingly, Limerick had nine different scorers by the end of that win over Waterford.
Four green flags was also a fine return on a day the winners wasted a similar amount of goal scoring opportunities.
Bottom line, this Limerick team knows where the goal is and will not be afraid to break through Cork’s defensive lines.
As for their league form, a 1-13 to 0-14 Division 3 win over reigning Munster champions Tipperary got Limerick’s campaign off to the best possible start.
A 2-point loss to Offaly was a disappointment but once again, Limerick bounced back and overcame Wicklow to secure a Division 3 semi-final berth. There, Derry proved too strong but Limerick will have taken heart from the consistentcy of their performances as well as an ability to rack up impressive scores in each outing.
This year, Limerick has scored 1-13 against Tipp, 1-11 against Offaly, 2-19 against Wicklow, 0-13 in their league semi-final loss to Derry and 4-18 in seeing off Waterford in the Munster championship.
An ability to spread the scores amongst all six forwards and midfielders plus an average of close to 2-15 a game sees the Shannonsiders entering this year’s Munster semi-final in the rudest of health.
No doubt Ronan McCarthy and his management team have taken note of Limerick’s upsurge in form.
This Cork team is capable of netting goals against the best defences in the country.
Castlehaven duo Mark Collins and Brian Hurley are beginning to hit form while Nemo Rangers’ Luke Connolly has the potential to unlock Limerick’s defence whenever in possession.
Cathail O’Mahony’s hamstring tear coupled with Ciarán Sheehan’s retirement represented disappointing blows.
Yet, there are plenty of positives surrounding this current Cork setup with the emergence of Dan Dineen along with Kevin O’Donovan, Kevin Flahive, Ruairí Deane and John O’Rourke’s consistent efforts.
It will not be easy but Cork should emerge victorious and reach their fifth consecutive provincial decider.