Cork v Limerick: Rebels must be ready for a battle as rivalry is renewed

Shannonsiders' intensity must be matched as Cork look to bounce back from All-Ireland and league final losses
Cork v Limerick: Rebels must be ready for a battle as rivalry is renewed

Cork and Limerick players struggle to control the ball in February's Allianz HL game at TUS Gaelic Grounds. Picture: Inpho/Bryan Keane

REGARDLESS, of how the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 final went a fortnight ago, proper judgement on Cork’s response to last year’s All-Ireland hurling final defeat was going to be reserved until this Sunday.

It’s unusual for the inter-county championship to be beginning at Easter-time, but the Rebels will be looking for a resurrection as they face off against the side that beat them by eight and then 16 points in last year’s campaign.

When Cork travelled to TUS Gaelic Grounds for a league clash at the end of February, they showed that they were willing to mix steel with style, fronting up in the physical exchanges before running out winners by 2-19 to 1-13.

However, that was far from the Shannonsiders’ first-choice 15 and, having won three of the last four All-Irelands, a league title wasn’t something they were targeting. 

Sunday will be different and it was interesting to hear Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty earlier this week when he was asked about Dónal Óg Cusack’s comments that his red card against Galway “was coming to him”.

“I suppose the old phrase that nice guys win nothing is relevant,” he said at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy's The Gift of the GAAB.

“Like, we do play on the edge as a team, we all play on the edge and I think you have to play on the edge.

"It's either kill or be killed out there, in my opinion. As I said, he's entitled to his opinion, it doesn't bother me, I couldn't care less what people say about me. 

"I honestly couldn't care less about what's said bar the people speaking inside in our little circle. He's entitled to his opinion, off he goes, I couldn't care less.

“I think there's a big difference between dirty and physical.

“There's a bit of a grey area between the two but we do play a very physical brand of hurling. It's as simple as that.

“At times we play on the edge and at times you maybe go a little bit over the edge and that's just the way it is and that's why the referee is there to control it.”

Whether Hegarty’s words will have been welcomed in the Limerick camp – or if they were planned as a telegraphing of intentions – is unclear, but certainly Cork will have been forewarned and so too will the match officials. 

On Sunday, Wicklow’s John Keenan will be the man who needs eyes in the back of his head. It's the way of things that the unfortunate officials get the blame if they whistle too much but, as Mulcahy alluded to, the rule book is there for guidance.

In as much as Waterford’s direct running at Cork caused problems in the league final, there is a sense that the Rebels’ approach has been with Limerick in mind. 

Any late curveball regarding the placement of Mark Coleman is unlikely, meaning that Ger Millerick’s role in helping curb Cian Lynch will be key – to that end, Shane Barrett is likely to drop deeper too as Limerick’s midfield pairing of Darragh O’Donovan and Will O’Donoghue are the often-overlooked heartbeat of the team and can set a tempo that few teams can keep up with.

With Dáire O’Leary the only real injury absentee, Cork have calls to make. 

Niall O’Leary could come back in after not featuring in a league final where four goals were shipped and that would allow Ciarán Joyce to be used in the half-back line, where he had excelled up to then.

Shane Kingston’s cameo against Waterford – not to mention two goals in the Gaelic Grounds – should see him start. 

While Limerick have few weaknesses, the league game and last year’s Munster final against Tipperary showed that diagonal balls towards the right corner-back area leave them somewhat susceptible, but their work out the field does much to prevent such opportunities materialising. 

By that token, defending from the front has to be a non-negotiable for Cork as Barry Nash and Kyle Hayes can build attacks from deep.

Peter Casey is out for Limerick and Séamus Flanagan is a doubt, which is where the poor league may be costly for the Treatymen as few possibles put up their hands to become probables. 

On paper, Cork have good depth but there were few league games where the bench posted a sizeable scoring tally.

If Cork are to win on Sunday, such an impact will surely be necessary, along with a greater tightness in defence.

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