CORK minor hurling manager Noel Furlong was impressed with how his team adapted to find a way past Limerick’s sweeper tactic after a slow start in Tuesday night’s Electric Ireland Munster MHC semi-final in Semple Stadium.
A provincial final against Waterford awaits Cork after a 1-24 to 1-14 victory in Thurles, but in the first quarter, they trailed by two points on four different occasions before getting to grips with things. With Limerick captain Cian Scully mopping up ball in a sweeper role, Cork had to think their way around the problem, quite literally, and once they did that, they took control of the game.
By half-time, it was 0-13 to 0-7 and, after a goal in the second half from Jack Leahy – who finished with 1-14 – Cork led by 12 at one stage before a late Limerick consolation strike.
“Any time you beat Limerick in a Munster semi-final, you’re always going to be happy,” manager Furlong said.
“We were well aware of the challenge which was going to be facing us on Tuesday night and, in fairness to our lads, I wouldn’t say it was our best performance ever but they dug it out and they worked until the very end and we were lucky enough to get the result.
“They had five players who played in an All-Ireland semi-final only a number of weeks ago, including their centre-back, who’s a serious operator.
“We started getting a few scores then after.”
Another prodigious scoring tally from Leahy, following on from the 3-9 he scored in the 40-point quarter-final win over Clare, was worthy of comment, but it was based upon a strong team performance.
“Yeah, Jack has been consistent in his performances all year, just like everybody else,” Furlong said.
“The supply of ball that he’s getting is pretty good and when Jack gets a good supply of ball, he’s a good player and he’s going to be hard to stop.”
After a victory as big as the Clare game, there might have been a fear that complacency would seep in, but Cork were focused and, even in the early stages when Limerick led, Cork’s hooking and blocking was excellent, testament to the work of skills coach Barry Johnson.
In defence, Kevin Lyons and Ben O’Connor were the stand-outs in what was a strong collective effort and there was never a sense of laurels being rested on after Clare.
“Absolutely,” Furlong said, “You look at Limerick, Limerick gave Cork a fair beating here last year and they’ve been in seven of the last eight Munster finals, they’re the team that’s dominating Munster at this grade.
“We knew that if we wanted to compete, we needed to bring our A-game and in fairness to our lads, they gave it everything they had tonight and luckily we got the result.
“The first quarter always just takes 10 minutes to settle down. Fellas’ adrenaline is up and so forth like that, but I think, once we saw how the game was panning out, I think our lads are very quick to adapt to different situations.
“That is stuff that we have accounted for and, in fairness to them, after the first quarter I think we dominated the game.”
“I do think it will be a help that we’ve had two matches here already,” he said.
“I haven’t thought about finals yet or anything like that. If it is in Thurles, great; if it’s not, so be it, we’ll play Waterford wherever the game is fixed.”
The sides have already met in a challenge game this year, with Cork winning, but Furlong knows that will count for little.
“We played Waterford in one game, a very tight game,” he said.
“I think a lot of extended squads were used the same night. I’m absolutely sure that Waterford have some of the best hurlers in the country at that age, you look at their marquee players, so they’re going to be a savage challenge for us.
“We just need to make sure that our preparation is as good for that game as it has been for the last two games.”