Cork 1-26 Limerick 1-24
It was a close-run thing, but Cork showed the necessary grit and guile to retain the Bord Gáis Energy Munster U20 hurling title with victory over Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Wednesday night.
Leading by six points with eight minutes of normal time left, Cork saw their lead wiped out as injury time loomed, with Limerick’s Cathal O’Neill having a chance to put the visitors ahead.
However, while he would finish with 16 points, he was off-target on this occasion and Cork made the most of the let-off, with the excellent Sam Quirke setting up Pádraig Power for the lead score before Darragh Flynn scored his 12th point and fifth from play in the second half.
O’Neill did reply for Limerick to make things nervy again but sub Ben Cunningham landed his second. In the final minute, Limerick launched a final attack as they searched for a game-winning goal but Quirke’s vital flick denied Aidan O’Connor as Cork secured their place in the All-Ireland against Galway on the weekend of August 7/8.
While Diarmuid Hegarty – brother of senior star Gearóid – had the wind-assisted Limerick ahead inside 28 seconds and Cathal O’Neill doubled the lead with his first pointed free of the night, Cork got a boost with a second-minute goal from Pádraig Power. Brian Hayes, impressive all night, was one of the architects as his ball for Robbie Cotter broke kindly for Power, who produced a clever batted finish.
With Cotter and Jack Cahalane lively and earning frees, Darragh Flynn was able to convert and Cork led by 1-3 to 0-5 after 11 minutes but Limerick, with O’Neill accurate from placed balls, had five of the next six points.
They were 1-8 to 0-4 in front by the water-break after a surge – though Cork’s Daniel Hogan had a half-chance of a goal in the middle of that run. O’Neill’s fifth point put Limerick two in front when action resumed and though Flynn replied for Cork, O’Neill and Hegarty eased Limerick into a three-point lead, the game’s biggest up to that point.
From Cathal Wilson’s puckout after Hegarty’s point, though, Hayes rose highest to catch and send over a point and he was hugely influential for the rest of the half. He set up Cahalane to cut the gap to a point and then, after O’Neill’s first miss for Limerick, Hayes got his second, set up by Brian O’Sullivan and Flynn.
Though O’Neill put Limerick back in front, Cork were on a roll and four points in a row – two by Power and two Flynn frees – had them 1-13 to 0-13 in front before O’Neill’s ninth was the last score of the half.
Power’s third and Cotter’s second moved Cork four in front early in the second half and the third quarter ebbed flowed with the lead between three and four until Cork had a great chance to put real daylight between the sides. When a pass from Cotter – earlier denied by Conor O’Neill in the Limerick goal – gave Power sight of goal, his shot beat O’Neill in the Limerick goal but full-back Pádraig Harnett got back to clear off the line and, while Power gathered possession again, O’Neill deflected his follow-up effort over the bar for a five-point lead.
While Hegarty and Cathal O’Neill brough Limerick back to three, two more from play by Flynn ensured it was 1-21 to 0-19 at the second-half water-break and then Jack Cahalane put six between the sides.
Flynn was unlucky not have the chance to increase the lead further, crowded out close to goal after a Cahalane pass, and instead – just after Cork lost full-back Dáire O’Leary to injury – Limerick had a lifeline when Bryan Nix’s superb pass put Hegarty in for a goal to make it 1-23 to 1-20 with seven minutes left.
Cathal O’Neill brought them back to two and the margin was down to one when Cork goalkeeper Cathal Wilson was pulled for over-carrying, O’Neill getting his 14th point. The same player levelled again as Cork wavered, but the Rebels pulled it out.
Scorers for Cork: D Flynn 0-12 (0-7f), P Power 1-5, B Hayes, R Cotter, J Cahalane, B Cunningham 0-2 each, B O’Sullivan 0-1.
Scorers for Limerick: C O’Neill 0-16 (0-15f), D Hegarty 1-3, A English, A O’Connor 0-2 each, B Nix 0-1.
CORK: C Wilson (Newcestown); C O’Brien (Newtownshandrum), D O’Leary (Watergrasshill), E Downey (Glen Rovers); K Moynihan (Na Piarsaigh), C Joyce (Castlemartyr), E Twomey (St Finbarr’s); S Quirke (Midleton), B O’Sullivan (Kanturk); D Flynn (Ballygiblin), D Hogan (Sarsfields), B Hayes (St Finbarr’s); R Cotter (Blackrock), P Power (Blarney), J Cahalane (St Finbarr’s).
Subs: B Cunningham (St Finbarr’s) for Hogan (42), C O’Donovan (Douglas) for O’Leary (50, injured), M Mullins (Whitehchurch) for O’Sullivan (53), L Horgan (Glen Rovers) for Cotter (53).
LIMERICK: Conor O’Neill; C Thomas, P Harnett, M Keane; E McEvoy, C Coughlan, C Ryan; J Quilty, C Downes; A English, Cathal O’Neill, D Hegarty; B Nix, A O’Connor, R Fox.
Subs: E Hurley for Ryan (33), F O’Connor for Keane (41), P Kirby for Downes (43), E Stokes for Fox (53).
Referee: K Jordan (Tipperary).