A TOTAL of 3,500 fans will be at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday afternoon for the Munster Senior Football Championship semi-final between Limerick and Cork, and the Rebels in attendance will be hoping that they will not be there to witness the first big shock of the summer.
Limerick’s most recent victory over Cork in the Munster championship was the famous ten point trouncing they dished out to Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2003, and the last win before that was way back in 1965, when one Eamonn Cregan scored 1-2 in Limerick’s 2-5 to 0-6 victory, which was strangely played all the way down in Killarney.
The above shows us that Limerick wins over Cork in the big ball game are as rare as hen’s teeth, but the Cork footballers as a bunch are a brittle entity in the last few years, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Limerick have shown clear signs of progress under Billy Lee in recent campaigns.
They probably should have been Cork’s opponents in last year’s Munster Final, but left Tipperary off the hook in their semi-final and we all know what happened then, unfortunately, from a Cork perspective.
Their league campaign this year was a good one too, beating Tipp and Wicklow, while losing narrowly to improving sides Offaly and Derry.
It is certainly not the type of form that would suggest that a giant killing is on the cards, but there is no doubting that positive steps are being taken on Shannonside.
In saying all that, the expectation is that if Cork perform to anywhere close to their optimum level that they should be booking their Munster Final place, which will take place on July 25.
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy has been denied the services of a number of players that he would have undoubtedly have formulated plans and tactics around, but the panel should be strong enough to withstand the challenge of a decent Division 3 outfit nonetheless.
Probably the main two takeaways from Cork’s short Division 2 South campaign were the manner in which the defence struggled to achieve a balance in executing effective tackles while limiting the amount of fouls that they conceded, and the way in which they struggled to secure primary possession under contestable kickouts.
Cork’s fortunes on Saturday, and beyond, will hinge largely on how well these deficiencies have been addressed.
Kevin Flahive, Sean Meehan and Mattie Taylor were the three defenders in the league who played every game, so it is a safe bet to pencil their names into the side for the championship campaign ahead.
Clonakilty’s Maurice Shanley missed the entire league campaign, but after an impressive debut season last year would be expected to be a big part of McCarthy’s plans if he has proven his fitness since his return to the panel.
Knocknagree’s Daniel O’Mahony was injured up in Ennis in the one-point victory over Clare in the league, but the expectation was that he would be available come the championship, so again the hope would be that his fitness issues are behind him now, as a full-back line of O’Mahony, Shanley and Flahive would be as strong a unit as Cork can field at present.
If the Cork rearguard can shackle Limerick’s impressive Bourke brothers, Hugh and Robbie, as well as the dangerous Danny Neville, then they should be halfway there.
The kickout won stats will make for interesting reading come the final whistle, regardless of the result.
Even if Cork win relatively comfortably this is an area that they really have to keep improving on if they are to be competitive against the Kerry’s and Dublin’s of this world.
You just get the feeling that Cork are currently short one big ball winner around the middle of the field at present who can guarantee possession when the pressure is really on.
Once Ronan McCarthy started putting in more shooters into the side Cork’s scoring averages shot up.
Clearly the balance between winning the middle eight possession stakes and having enough actual score takers can be a tough one at times, but Cork showed against Clare and Westmeath that they were getting that balance right, at least from an attacking perspective, as they registered 0-22 and 3-22, respectively, in those two ties.
Cork fans pretty much know what they are going to get from the likes of Luke Connolly, Brian Hurley, John O’Rourke, Ruairí Deane and Mark Collins in attack, but it will be interesting to see how Dan Dineen does.