Cork v Limerick: Christy O'Connor on how the Rebels can respond to league final misfire

Páirc Uí Chaoimh clash on Easter Sunday will show us if Kieran Kingston's side learned their lessons from their poor showing in the Waterford loss
Cork v Limerick: Christy O'Connor on how the Rebels can respond to league final misfire

Ciarán Joyce in league action against Limerick. He'll make his championship debut on Sunday. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IN Denis Hurley’s excellent new book, ‘ Cork Hurling, Game of my Life’, Daniel Kearney speaks to Hurley about Cork’s Munster Round Robin match against Limerick in 2019 as the game that will live with him forever.

Having lost to Limerick in agonising circumstances after extra-time in the previous year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Cork had huge motivation in seeking to atone for the disappointment. 

Yet Cork were even more desperate for a result after having lost to Tipperary in their opening game the previous week. Cork delivered a brilliant display to win by seven points. 

“From the first ball to the last minute,” Kearney told Hurley, “it was a complete performance.” 

It was. 

Limerick's Gearoid Hegarty and Daniel Kearney of Cork in action in 2019. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Limerick's Gearoid Hegarty and Daniel Kearney of Cork in action in 2019. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Three years on, the conditions are broadly similar again now. Cork were hammered by Limerick in last year’s All-Ireland final. The championship hasn’t started yet but Cork’s last game was a bitterly disappointing defeat in the league final. 

And Limerick are next up now. Again.

The performance against Waterford was a let-down, but it has also created the perfect environment, and opportunity, for Cork to respond to that set-back. 

The biggest difference this time around from 2019 is that Limerick are also on their guard.

Three years ago, they went into the championship as league winners and championship favourites. 

Limerick are still favourites now but they aren’t entering this campaign in the same lofty position from where they left last year’s championship. Key players are injured. 

Their form was poor throughout the league.

That included a trimming from Cork, which has added to their motivation and given Limerick a tank of fuel they didn’t have – or really need to - throw on their fire ahead of the 2019 game.

After their only league win, against Offaly, footage of John Kiely’s post-match interview on the ‘Limerick Leader Sport’ website showed how bullish and confident Kiely was. He insisted that ‘Limerick will get it right’ for the championship.

Limerick know what they need to rectify. 

On a recent training camp to Killarney, their main area of focus was on their own puckout. 

Cork's Shane Kingston and Waterford's Conor Gleeson battle for possession. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Shane Kingston and Waterford's Conor Gleeson battle for possession. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

That has always been a key weapon for Limerick but teams had defused it during the league, primarily through the full-forward line backing off and conceding the short puckout to Limerick.

Cork did so in the Gaelic Grounds and March but they also deployed that tactic against Kilkenny and Waterford, probably to get ready for Limerick again on Sunday. 

Kilkenny just pumped the ball long on that second ball, especially in the second half, which didn’t work, but Waterford were able to run it out better with men on the shoulder.

Waterford mined a colossal 3-12 off puck-outs, with 2-10 coming off their own restarts.

It was a poor overall performance but Cork know that there was a deeper meaning behind the league final analysis than just the result. 

Cork still had 13 more shots from play than Waterford; they had 19 missed chances in total; goals were the difference but so was the conversion rates, with Waterford’s coming in at 73% compared to Cork’s 56%.

Cork will need those numbers to be far higher but the biggest deficit Cork need to make up from last August in in work-rate. In the first half of the All-Ireland final, Cork made just 22 tackles, the vast majority of which were made by defenders.

Cork’s work-rate was solid during the league up to the final, but it wasn’t high enough against Waterford. 

Cork also had a couple of players carrying knocks and illness, which impacted on the team’s performance, but some of the defending still was nowhere near good enough.

INEXPERIENCE

That will have been Cork’s main focus on the training ground in the last two weeks but some of those glitches against Waterford were probably down to inexperience.

Although Ciarán Joyce was played in the full-back line for the first time, it still looked like he was always supposed to playing outside the last defender closest to goal. 

Yet when Stephen Bennett caught the ball over Joyce’s head for his second goal, Joyce was in that position close to goal, which Waterford clearly exploited.

Those areas will have been addressed since, but Limerick will still have noted some of those areas of potential exploitation. 

Kyle Hayes could be at number 11 to run down Cork’s throats. Cian Lynch may line out at corner-forward with a roving creative role in mind. Gearóid Hegarty could be deployed at the edge of the square to work in tandem with Aaron Gillane.

Limerick believe they have Cork’s number but they can’t be the same team they were last August because of the injuries to Peter Casey and Seamus Flanagan

There have also been soundings of Will O’Donoghue and Hayes carrying knocks. The suggestion of Limerick’s superior back-up to every other team was proven unfounded during the league.

Despite all the talk of Cork needing to be radical in the reconstruction of their team after the league final, Cork won’t go down that road, especially in such a short time. 

The only player that will definitely come into the side is Shane Kingston, who scored three points and was fouled for a free from just four possessions after being introduced against Waterford.

Trust is key now. Cork will take confidence from their consistency, which Cork hadn’t shown in spring for decades, while the older players will also draw on their experience from their 2019 meeting against Limerick.

Cork made a big stand that day when delivering the ‘complete performance’. And they need to do so again now.

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