Technically, Cork’s appearance in Sunday’s Co-op SuperStores Munster Hurling League final against Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn (3pm) will represent a second straight occasion that the county has made the decider.
Back in 2020, Kieran Kingston’s Rebels got to the final, losing out to Limerick at the LIT Gaelic Grounds. There was no competition in 2021 as the effects of Covid-19 caused so many events to be cancelled and, then, when it returned in a knockout format last year, Cork were absent as the timing of the games clashed with the team holiday.
Wins over Kerry in Austin Stack Park in Tralee on January 5 and then against Limerick in Páirc Uí Rinn last Sunday have earned Cork the final spot and the chance to lift the cup for just the second time.
This is the seventh year of the league, which replaced the Waterford Crystal Cup in 2016. Whatever happens on Sunday, Limerick will stay top of the roll of honour with three wins while Cork will either join Clare on two victories or Tipp will join Cork on one. Waterford and Kerry remain without triumphs.
The previous Waterford Crystal Cup lasted for ten editions, 2006-15 inclusive, but success was elusive for Cork there – Tipp enjoyed four victories with Clare, Limerick and Waterford having two each.
Cork did make three finals across that decade. In 2007, Gerald McCarthy had just succeeded John Allen as manager and he guided Cork to the final against a Tipp team with Michael ‘Babs’ Keating back in charge.
The decider was played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on February 4 and Cork got off to a great start as Diarmuid O’Sullivan – playing at full-forward – scored a goal and Jonathan O’Callaghan also netted in the first half but Tipp went in leading by 1-8 to 2-4 at half-time after Danny O’Hanlon raised a green flag for them.
The Kelly brothers, Eoin and Paul, combined for 13 points as Tipp stayed in front in the second half, the Premier County winning by 1-17 to 2-11.
It would be four years before Cork made it back to the final. By this stage, Denis Walsh was manager and Páirc Uí Rinn was the venue for the match against Waterford – a repeat of the previous summer’s Munster final, which the Déise had won after a replay.
A more experienced Waterford team, who had also won the Waterford Crystal in 2010, led the 2011 final by 0-9 to 0-6 at half-time, with Richie Foley impressive for them. While a young Conor Lehane – who would finish with seven points from play – helped to wipe out the deficit early in the second half, Waterford pushed on again and ended up winning by 0-21 to 0-16.
The last year of the Waterford Crystal, 2015, would see another home final appearance for Cork – Mallow on this occasion – but another defeat, to Limerick.
Cork had led early on as Stephen Moylan goaled but Limerick responded with an unanswered goal and four points, Gavin O’Mahony netting.
Cork produced a good response, coming back to within two points after a Cian McCarthy free – one of eight by him. However, Adrian Breen plundered Limerick’s second goal to ensure a five-point half-time lead.
Limerick moved seven ahead early in the second half but Cork came back well with points from Cian McCarthy, Andy Walsh and Luke O’Farrell as the gap was cut down to two. The Treatymen found a late surge though and Breen’s second goal helped them to win by 3-20 to 1-16.
A sponsorship deal with Co-op SuperStores coincided with a new round-robin format and a name change for 2016, with Clare beating Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds to claim the first Munster Hurling League.
The following year, Limerick would again suffer home final defeat as Cork finally took provincial pre-season supremacy.
A 100 percent record in the league section earned Cork a spot in the decider against John Kiely’s side. The Rebels had put seven goals past the Shannonsiders in the first match but the second game was a lot closer.
In the Gaelic Grounds on January 29, David Dempsey’s goal helped Limerick to lead by 1-11 to 0-12 at half-time, Patrick Horgan on target for Cork from frees. The hosts stayed in front in the second half, with Nickey Quaid making a good save from Fitzgibbon as Cork pushed.
Cork did lead with five points in a row only for Limerick to respond again and victory looked to be theirs until Alan Cadogan struck for a late winning goal. Cork would go on to claim the Munster title later that summer.
In 2020, Cork and Limerick made the final again but on that occasion, Limerick won by 1-32 to 0-20, a sign of intent after they had lost their All-Ireland crown the previous autumn.
The Rebels will hope that a victory can Saturday can be a catalyst for success later in the year.