CORK will have been relieved to have negotiated what looked a potential banana skin tie against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday afternoon.
It was job done in the Munster semi-final, but no one will be under any illusions as to the quality of the performance, which will not have frightened any team left in the All-Ireland championship.
Cork won by 1-16 to 0-11 in the end but heading down the home stretch their lead had been whittled down to a mere four points, while their best two defenders had been withdrawn through injury. For a moment an upset was a possibility, but in fairness to Cork they kicked on with five unanswered points from the 62nd to the 72nd minutes to end Limerick’s hopes.
He might not have stood out to the naked eye, but Bantry’s Ruairí Deane was extremely instrumental to the victory, despite the fact that he failed to register a score himself. Over the course of the match, he was directly responsible for assisting 1-7, with 1-6 of these being from hand-passes Deane laid off, and the other coming from a free he won close to goal.
It might not be as eye-catching as an outside of the boot pass from Luke Connolly, but these layoffs to players in better shooting positions are key to how Cork are trying to play.
John O’Rourke maintained his great form of the league campaign, in what is at present looking his best-ever season at senior level for Cork, with 1-3 from play, although his second-minute goal ended up being a scrappy finish.
Douglas’ Brian Hartnett really grew into the game, in what was his first start at this level, and the 2019 U20 All-Ireland winner showed enough to suggest that he will be a mainstay around the middle of the park for some time, as he got on a lot of balls, and gave Cork a physical edge, which is badly needed.
Cian Kiely also will have been pleased with his half an hour on the pitch, after he replaced Sean Powter, as the two points he bagged were crucial to Cork pulling away.
Cork goalkeeper Micheál Martin went long on his kick-outs on only five occasions over the course of the 70+ minutes, although in fairness to the Cork midfield they managed to hoover up four of these, including all three that went long in the second half.
On Limerick’s contestable kick-outs Cork lost the first four, but from there on held their own, as they won five of the remaining eight contestable kick-outs by sub Limerick goalkeeper Aaron O’Sullivan.
Powter, who had scored two wonderful individual points on the stroke of halftime to give Cork control at the break, limped off in the 41st minute, and he must now be a serious doubt for the Munster Final in just over two weeks time.
Knocknagree’s Daniel O’Mahony was rock solid at full-back, but only nine minutes later he followed Powter off, to be replaced by Nemo Rangers’ Briain Murphy. Given their massive injury list as it is, Cork simply cannot afford to face into a Munster final without that pair.
Cork’s free conceded stats will surely be a major concern to Ronan McCarthy and Cian O’Neill, with 27 frees conceded by the entire team over the course of the game. This total is far too high, and while Hugh Bourke kicked five frees, Limerick will have been frustrated to miss a few placed balls in the first half that could have kept them right in touch.
Cork also conceded 14 sloppy turnovers in the game, and while turnovers are inevitable, the manner of them will be the worrying aspect, as the majority of them stemmed from unforced errors as opposed to attempts to open Limerick up with kick passing.
Speaking of which, there was only a dozen forward kick-passes in the entire game by Cork, with not one of their scores coming from such a ball. This is clearly something the team are doing upon instruction from management, but Cork are unlikely to break down any of the top defences in the country with such a conservative approach.
One of the main consequences from Cork’s slow laborious build-up play was that Brian Hurley and Dan Ó Duinnín were starved of quality possession inside, with the pair having to come out past the 45-yard line to get their hands on the ball.
In fairness, the Cork defence did chip in with six from play, which has to be taken as a positive from this game.