DATA without context can be fairly meaningless.
So, while it is 100 percent true to say that meetings of Cork and Limerick in Munster SHC round-robin games have never produced a home win while Limerick have never triumphed, the data sample of just two meetings makes that statistic a little less jaw-dropping.
All things being equal, this year would see the fifth edition of the league system in provincial championship hurling but of course the last two seasons have been subject to unprecedented external forces – indeed, without the impact of Covid-19, it’s quite likely that we wouldn’t have had the expedited move to a split season and the April start to the inter-county championship.
Whether you think the early beginning is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but it is the situation now and it’s likely to be the way it is for the medium term, at least.
The return to the round-robin for the first time since 2019 is to be welcomed, at least, in that it should give the fairest representation of the Munster pecking order. Cork and Limerick are the only counties to have progressed on the two previous occasions that the format was in place, with Tipperary and Clare qualifying once each while Waterford will be hoping to do so for the first time – a strong likelihood, given the upturn in their fortunes since the enforced change in system.
Cork came into 2018 as the reigning Munster champions – the last under the knockout mode, we thought – and they stayed unbeaten in four group games before beating Clare in the final, as they had done the previous year. It wasn’t all plain sailing though as draws away to Tipperary and at home to Limerick meant that they needed a win in their final match against the already-relegated Waterford and it took a while to achieve that.
The Limerick clash on the June bank holiday Saturday had been a massive tussle and Cork looked as though they had done enough to win when Patrick Horgan put them 1-25 to 0-27 in front only for Kyle Hayes to land a late equaliser for the Shannonsiders.
Of course, Limerick would go on to end a 45-year wait for an All-Ireland that autumn – beating Cork in the semi-final after extra time – and when the counties clashed again in the second round of the 2019 Munster championship, they were strong favourites.
Cork were coming off the back of a heavy defeat at home to Tipperary in their opener so the game at LIT Gaelic Grounds had a make-or-break feel to it.
The Cork management made some big callas as Mark Ellis returned to the side at centre-back, having not been part of the matchday panel for the opening game, while Robert Downey was given his debut at right half-back and Aidan Walsh came into the full-forward line.
In the first half, Cork lost Conor Lehane to injury in the process of scoring a point but Alan Cadogan, who missed all of 2018 through injury, was a more-than-adequate replacement. Limerick looked to have hit their stride as they led 0-7 to 0-5 inside 14 minutes and though Cork drew level at 0-8 each thanks to Patrick Horgan’s fourth point, Limerick pushed on against as Declan Hannon’s pass found Graeme Mulcahy and he finished to the net from a tight angle.
Cork could have responded immediately as Séamus Harnedy exchanged passes with Aidan Walsh but Nickie Quaid denied him and, with Horgan uncharacteristically inaccurate from two frees as half-time approached, Limerick were table to take that two-point lead in at the break.
However, Cork were level within four minutes thanks to Luke Meade and Cadogan. While Gillane put Limerick 1-12 to 0-14 ahead, it was the last time the hosts led, with Eoin Cadogan, Niall O’Leary, Mark Coleman and debutant Downey all excelling in defence for Cork.
Two from Horgan had Cork ahead again, with Mulcahy levelling before Daniel Kearney had two in a row for Cork to mark a fine display from him. A goal from Horgan – just after a squandered Limerick chance – put them firmly in control, though with six minutes remaining and Cork six ahead, a monumental hook from the excellent Darragh Fitzgibbon denied Cian Lynch a goal chance. From there, Cork wouldn’t be denied and were up and running with a 1-26 to 1-19 victory but unfortunately they would struggle to find consistency in a frustrating season.
While Sunday is an important game, especially in the context of last August’s defeat to Limerick in the All-Ireland final and the recent league final defeat to Waterford, but it should also be remembered that it is game one of four and, whatever the outcome, further tests will await.