Cork hurlers running to stand still as tactics shut down yet again

Éamonn Murphy shares the Cork hurling faithful's frustration at the same shortcomings surfacing this season
Cork hurlers running to stand still as tactics shut down yet again

Cork supporters bring colour against Limerick during the Munster SHC round-robin at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE margin of defeat was 11 points in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but the major concern is that Cork never remotely looked like taking down the All-Ireland champions yesterday. 

They grabbed an opening salvo of 1-2, Shane Kingston stitching a brilliant goal, and hit four scores on the bounce after half-time, including a Shane Barrett strike that was pushed over the bar, to draw level yet Limerick then took over and coasted through the last quarter.

The Treaty hit five successive points to go 2-14 to 1-12 ahead and all the hosts could muster from there on was five Patrick Horgan points, four of them frees. The closing stages were flat and uninspiring yet Limerick subs Pat Ryan, Cathal O'Neill (2) and David Reidy were all able to rifle over crisp scores. None of the Cork replacements scored, even if Seamus Harnedy was decent, Rob Downey battled gamely in defence and Jack O'Connor saw a goal chance whizz just wide.

Cork were a beaten docket coming down the stretch and hurled that way. How do they recover from that? Especially after the recent no-show against Waterford.

The season isn't yet gone from Kieran Kingston's charges, there are Munster round-robin games to come against Clare, Waterford and Tipp, with the third-placed team in the group going into the qualifiers but positives were in short supply for the Leeside faithful making their way home.

Very few of the Rebels hit close to their best form but then they weren't allowed to either. Lateral passing and attempting to run the sliotar through a crowded middle third packed with brawny defenders didn't work in the league final and certainly failed to trouble Limerick aside from a few flashes of pace.

Cork's Robbie O'Flynn shoots from Limerick's William O'Donoghue. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Robbie O'Flynn shoots from Limerick's William O'Donoghue. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Limerick's intensity and aggression yielded their two first-half goals: Kingston was swarmed down the field before Kyle Hayes turned Damien Cahalane for the first green flag and Sean O'Donoghue was bottled up coming out for Aaron Gillane's goal in behind. Gearóid Hegarty's aerial prowess and movement was too hard to handle through the opening period. 

Diarmaid Byrnes, the RTÉ Man of the Match, was colossal at wing-back and none of the Cork defenders can replicate what he offers in terms of ball-winning and distance shooting. Ciarán Joyce did well as a newcomer, despite shipping some hard hits, but he's raw and needs time and patience to develop.

The weather didn't bode well all weekend. Driving rain, April showers and then some, across the morning. The conditions that rarely suit Cork's brand of wristy hurling, whatever the era aside from the outlier of the 1999 All-Ireland final arm-wrestle with Kilkenny.

It dried up before throw-in, much to the relief of the players and supporters, but it didn't suggest an upset was on the cards. Cork have plenty of powerful athletes in their ranks. Just not as many as Limerick. The difference in power and purpose was notable throughout.

The fans flocked to Páirc Uí Chaoimh giddy from Easter eggs and buzzing with championship expectation, though in Cork's case that was tempered by the bitter disappointment of another poor final display, in losing the league decider to Waterford 15 days earlier. Limerick were listless through the early phase of the season but with three in a row on their minds, and a fourth All-Ireland since 2018, that was a practical approach. They reminded everyone here why they'll march past anyone who can't cope with their drive

The match was a sell-out, though the frustrating approach to ticket distribution, with the stand only being sold to the general public late last week when many had already purchased terrace tickets, meant the ground wasn't completely rammed. 

The Cork crowd were in fine voice early on but were long silenced before the final whistle sounded.

The build-up was dominated by talk of the weakness at the heart of the Cork defence and captain Mark Coleman's unsuitability as a centre-back. It's not a new debate and has raged on and off since Ronan Curran's time at number six came to an end. Coleman didn't allow Cian Lynch dictate the tempo as was the case last summer in the All-Ireland final, with Ger Millerick offering support, but that didn't matter to Limerick when they still have the time and space to either point from long-range or target Gillane inside.

The delivery to Horgan and Shane Kingston was woeful in comparison.

Cork now have a two-week gap until their next 'home' fixture, the Clare clash switched from the Páirc to Thurles on the May Bank Holiday weekend because of Ed Sheeran, whose tour has also caused issues for Cork-Kerry in the football and Munster's Champions Cup quarter-final with Toulouse. The Banner will also be in Semple Stadium against Tipp next weekend, the Banner relishing the prospect of upsetting the perceived pecking order in Munster. 

Limerick host Waterford. The type of bruising battle Cork can't shine in.

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