CORK will get another pre-season game against Tipperary next weekend after digging out a Munster Hurling League win over Limerick at Páirc Uí Rinn.
The Rebels hurled well in the first half despite coughing up a cheap goal, leading 0-11 to 1-7, and battened down the hatches after falling 1-14 to 0-13 in arrears entering the fourth quarter, while hitting seven of the last nine points.
Subs Brian Roche and Declan Dalton put themselves about in the attritional closing stages, though obviously Cork will need to be much sharper for the Allianz NHL opener against Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on the first Saturday in February.
Limerick were left to rue some sloppy misses, especially from frees, as they tallied 12 wides to Cork’s six. For bainisteoir Pat Ryan, the character shown in the closing stages will have been encouraging and avoiding a loss at home was important.
Ciarán Joyce’s power was key in front of a decent crowd for this time of year, though he benefited from being able to sweep back away from his marker. Conor Lehane was the marquee forward on show, finishing his afternoon with 0-12, 0-4 from play.
Both teams were obviously missing a host of big names, but Patrick Horgan did make his return from injury in the second half; the rematch in the league proper will be a different sceál.
Before that there’s the Munster Hurling League final with the Premier on Sunday, which will be useful to both counties given they’re under new management.
Not just because he clipped over a neat winner on the run in injury-time, but Brian Hayes showed promise as a target man.
His late strike was his second score while he also assisted three points, for Shane Barrett, Conor Lehane, and Conor Cahalane, and twice came close to grabbing a goal, denied by a brilliant block and then a solid save.
Hayes’ switch from the football panel to the hurling set-up was a boost for the management while Colin Walsh, a dual minor and U20, came on against Limerick having impressed off the bench in the Canon O’Brien Cup win over UCC.
Cormac Beausang nabbed 0-2 as well, but after a bright first half didn’t get as much possession as he needed in the second period.
In defence, Conor O’Callaghan was the best of the rookies in the rearguard, the Dromtarriffe club man was tenacious and tough, collecting a lot of breaking ball. Midfielder Brian O’Sullivan had a point and an assist early on but was replaced at half-time as he was on a yellow card.
After being left out of the panel in 2021, Lehane was back to his best last year, firing 1-25 in championship and 1-19 in the league, 2-44 overall, with 1-31 of that from play. While the All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Galway was an obvious disappointment, he had been Man of the Match after torching Tipp and his season overall was a huge plus given he wasn’t involved the year before.
With Midleton exiting the Cork Premier SHC in the group stage, Lehane had a decent break before returning to Rebel duty this winter and it’s telling.
He clipped 0-3 in the Munster Senior Hurling League opener down in Kerry and was razor sharp in the first half at Páirc Uí Rinn, lancing over three points from play from a variety of angles. His free-taking was precise, converting eight of his nine placed balls, while he thieved a lovely second-half point from play as well.
Now 30, Lehane looks set to be a key figure in the Cork forward line under Pat Ryan, even if the selectors introduce some fresh faces. As well as retaining his incredible skill and crisp striking, his work-rate has improved vastly in recent seasons.
A minute’s silence was held in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday in memory of Paudie Palmer and he was also acknowledged at the All-Ireland junior hurling final in Croke Park.
Ballygiblin had plenty on their plate preparing for a second All-Ireland decider in a row, determined to make up for last year’s loss at Croker.
The Avondhu side still took the time out to print up a sign paying tribute to the late, great Paudie: ‘This One Is For You Paudie’, which they displayed during the celebrations on Jones Road. It was a terrific gesture from the club’s hurlers as they signed off on the junior ranks and completely fitting given the commentator and columnist’s passion for every tier of GAA.