John Horgan on Cork v Limerick: Time has come for Rebels to make a major impact

Pat Ryan's side can get the win they need this Sunday on enemy turf to knock out the All-Ireland champions
John Horgan on Cork v Limerick: Time has come for Rebels to make a major impact

Limerick's Cathal O'Neill and Ger Millerick of Cork in action. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

THERE is a growing sense of belief that this season's All-Ireland is more open than it might have been for quite some time.

On the basis that they have reigned supreme for the past three years and are still firmly in the chase to make it four-in-a-row, Limerick are still favourites to do just that. But on the evidence thus far, those hoping to unseat them seem to be closing in more than they have been.

We'll be a lot more knowledgeable after the events in the Gaelic Grounds and Semple Stadium this Sunday but at this point, it would be fair to suggest that the four Munster counties still in the equation, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary plus Galway and Kilkenny in Leinster and, to a lesser extent, Dublin must be considered as genuine candidates to lift the MacCarthy Cup in late July.

That gives us at least six teams still with so much to play for as the group stage nears its conclusion.

The losers of the Cork and Limerick encounter on Sunday will exit the championship and that will have an effect on the thinking but it won't take away from the fact that the race will still be a very open one.

Limerick and Cork's showdown at the Gaelic Grounds is, without doubt, the only show in town this weekend, and as the old saying goes, the winner takes it all, the season will have been cruelly cut short before the month of May has expired for the vanquished.

Limerick manager John Kiely. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Limerick manager John Kiely. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

There are many of the opinion that by coughing up a six-point advantage deep into the second half of the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final clash to eventually lose by a point, Cork allowed Limerick to begin their glorious run which has seen them win four of the last five All-Ireland tiles.

What if Cork had held out that day in Croke Park, would Limerick have been as successful as they have been in the subsequent years?

Who knows, but one thing that we do know is that Cork now have the opportunity to end that remarkable run of success on Sunday.

There is no doubt that Limerick, by the huge standards that they have set, are not imposing their authority on games as they have done most of the time since their emergence as a powerful unit, one of the best of the modern era.

They were there for the taking against Waterford in their Munster opener, a little fortunate to survive that day. They were deservedly beaten by Clare in game two and Tipperary matched them stride for stride last Sunday.

But the bottom line is, they are still around and while they are they remain the standard bearers.

A few players, most notably Cian Lynch and Gearoid Hegarty are not firing to the extent that they used to and the absence of corner-back, Sean Finn is being considerably felt. Would Jake Morris have had the impact for Tipperary that he had in Thurles if Finn was alongside him?

The big positive for John Kiely in that game was the huge influence of Cathal O'Neill with five points from play and again the impact off the bench was considerable with Graeme Mulcahy and Peter Casey sharing three points between them.


The bench remains a key element of their set-up but Cork have shown too the impact that their bench can make.

Although they eventually lost by the bare minimum to Clare, Cork's riposte to falling eight points in arrears early in the second half to draw level illustrated the depth of character in the squad.

Of course, on another day an eight-point deficit might not have been clawed back and the opposition would have gone on to build on that substantial lead.

Both in the league and in the championship and even in the pre-season Munster League, Cork have been falling behind quite a lot before coming up with the required response. But that's not a guarantee every time.

There will have been a lot of debate in the Cork management team all week as regards the starting team for Sunday and the greater likelihood is that there will be changes, maybe more so in attack.

There's a perception that some players are better off arriving from the bench rather than being in from the start. I don't know if that makes sense but you always start what you consider to be your best 15.

There is no doubt that Mark Coleman's absence from the defence is being felt but a big positive from last Sunday in Ennis was the return of Sean O'Donoghue and being involved in that titanic battle will stand to him all the more.

The Limerick team selection will be equally interesting and the current form of some of the players who have been such a major part of their success story must be a concern. This is likely to be the biggest test this Limerick team has faced in recent times with the stakes at the very highest level.

One of their greatest strengths is being able to find a way when the big questions were put to them. That self-belief has been built up over the past five years and now it's Cork's turn to ask the biggest of all those questions.

One way or the other a very big hurling county will be out of the championship on Sunday night and that will be a massive blow for their huge support base. Maybe Cork's time has come to end the reign of one of the greatest hurling teams that it has been our privilege to see over the past 50 years.


Finally, this week we could not let it end without a mention of Westmeath and their quite sensational win over Wexford in Wexford Park last Sunday. The Lake County seemed to be in for another almerciful hammering when they trailed by 16 points at the interval.

But in turning that deficit around to win by two points has to be one of the greatest stories of the hurling year or any other year for that matter.

And it may not be surpassed for many a long day.

It has to be their finest ever hurling hour while conversely, it has to be Wexford's darkest.

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