Cork Senior Hurlers provide Limerick with plenty to ponder

Cork resurrect their season; Limerick need to regroup

As Nicky Quaid was about to pass the sliothar to a defensive colleague in the fifth minute of second half injury time, the final whistle went with huge roars of approval from the large Cork travelling support, management and players.

A defining game in their championship season and the Rebels delivered a performance to quieten those who doubted the team after their disappointing home loss to Tipperary last weekend.

Cork’s middle third which was much maligned last week in terms of work rate, game management and defensive tracking were on it from minute one. They harassed, they pressured, they executed the game plan of isolating the inside Limerick full back line to a tee.

Bill Cooper was outstanding in the engine room of Cork’s midfield. The Youghal man was composed with the ball and his game management and organization was immense.

It was an excellent day for the Cork management whose decision to start Aidan Walsh in the half forward line paid huge dividends. The Kanturk talisman was a focal point in the air and his breaking of ball for the likes of Meade and Kearney saw several noteworthy points from play.

The Cork half forward lines consistent quick movement caused Limerick’s much vaunted half back line serious troubles. There was an uneasiness about Limerick’s half back play today; the unit were consistently caught out on the Cork puck out strategy and with no genuine support from their half forward line and midfield, it left massive holes for Alan Cadogan and Pa Horgan to exploit inside.

Cork have resurrected their season on the back of this performance. They will be the first to realize that this performance guarantees nothing in the coming weeks but what it does show is that John Meyler’s charges when on form can beat anyone and significantly have the guile and game smarts to close out a contest. The margin of victory was accurate given the context of the proceedings.

Where now for Limerick? The game was a day to forget for all involved including management who struggled to find answers to Cork’s tactical switches throughout. There was a nervousness to Limerick’s play; regulation passes came unstuck causing additional defensive issues and score concessions.

The middle third was the fulcrum last year for Limerick but they were absent for long periods of this contest. The half back line never set the aerial platform. Hannan was increasingly isolated with Cork’s half forward line movement. Morrissey was pushed too far up the pitch to compete with Aidan Walsh in the air as Richie English faced an unenviable task. Byrnes was often in his full back line looking to receive ball. No team can win a championship based on the struggles of the half back line.

The midfield unit struggled. O’Donovan running game was quickly snuffed out and it affected other parts of his game; his usually high standard of sideline cutting was absent. Cian Lynch fought gallantly with some lung bursting runs but you felt that Lynch decided to take the leadership mantle on and win the game on his own; a glorious goal opportunity spurned in the closing stages when a sharp pass to Dowling was the better option.

The half forward line was sporadic for long periods. Hayes at times won the dirty ball but Hegarty and Tom Morrissey struggled for rhythm and aerial duels today. Downey and Coleman personally were standouts for Cork; they played a superbly astute game plan in the aerial battle and their pace and passing was exceptional.

The inside full forward line was threatening when good early ball came from the Limerick midfield and half back line. Graeme Mulcahy’s goal was razor sharp; good anticipation after a Hannan miscued point reached the Kilmallock man. His goal was emphatic; there was nothing Anthony Nash could do.

Aaron Gillane is a player I greatly admire but today Cork got under his skin yet again. His red card last year down in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was only going to invite further sledging today and he unfortunately took the bait; engaging with verbals with Cadogan throughout and not providing the full forward platform that Limerick required with his running down the channels. Gillane is better than that.

Peter Casey worked hard but precious little went right for the Na Piarsaigh front man; guilty of several unforced possession losses. It was a day to forget for Limerick.

Limerick’s performance was flat; their performance lacked the bite and drive required in Munster SHC. Limerick’s looked one paced throughout and it will be interesting to see the reaction in the camp ahead of a crucial tussle in two weeks time on the road. The players looked leggy heading into the final quarter; pressure had tolled.

The running game and passing game which has served Limerick so well in the last eighteen months was a non-factor. The work rate and ability to win the 50/50 ball was second best today. The reality check has being issued; it was sent loud and clear in LIT Gaelic Grounds.

For management, it will require cool heads and composure to dissect this flat performance. It is the first day out in the championship; seven weeks since their last competitive game is a factor but the players will know themselves the levels required to compete in this provincial championship.

The team pride themselves on their standards and one would hope that the players and management are honest in their appraisal of today. Lessons need to be learned and quickly. An interesting two weeks beckons. John Kiely looked like a man who was absolutely livid with that display in his post game comments.

One game does not make a team a bad outfit but this was a performance to focus the minds of all associated with Limerick; the euphoria of last year’s championship win has being smashed after today. It is the here and now and failure to produce better performances in the coming weeks will see an early summer exit for the reigning All Ireland Senior Hurling Champions.

For Cork, a day to be proud of. A game which required a performance was delivered and for the squad and management, confidence should be restored to launch another provincial tilt. With Horgan, Harnedy and Cadogan in the forward line sparkling, this level of consistency is the blueprint.

If Cork can deliver this performance until the end of the season, then they will be a tough side to watch. Two teams met today; one team entered the arena with their backs and reputations on the line, that team delivered, that team was Cork!

Nicky Quaid: All Ireland Semi-Final Saves

Running through the game tape of the epic All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final yesterday, it would be remiss of me not to add these GIF clips. Both saves from Nicky Quaid was incredible and were decisive factors in Limerick heading to an All Ireland final. Kudos to the Effin net minder, exceptional saves!

Shane Kingston Save

 

Seamus Harnedy Save

 

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Profile: Cork

In this All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final preview, we look at the Cork challenge which has seen John Meyler’s charges retain their Munster SHC title this season. A team brimming with speed and talent, Cork will be a difficult juggernaut to stop this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the Rebels.

Path to All Ireland Semi-Final: 

The Munster SHC round robin was an interesting competition phase for Cork. Their opening home win late over a determined Clare challenge laid the foundations but questions were raised against Tipperary and Limerick on the side’s ability to produce a full seventy minute performance. The draw against Limerick at home exposed shot selection issues and allowed fourteen man Limerick to salvage a last gasp draw.

The bye week came at a good time for Cork management and players; a chance for the camp to regroup and improve on certain areas. Their last round robin fixture against Waterford was a banana skin fixture as the Deise with no pressure gave Cork all they could handle for sixty minutes but Seamus Harnedy’s goal was decisive as Cork won the fixture by three points to secure a provincial final berth against Clare.

A story of two halves for Cork in the Munster SHC final. Clare dominated the opening period; their running game causing the Cork back line numerous problems and the threat of John Conlon inside at full forward looked to be a decisive game winning moment. However, the resilience of this Cork side shone through again. The middle third dominated the aerial battle in the third quarter and from being four points down at the break, Cork strode out to a lead that they would never relinquish. As the game opened up and back lines tired, Cork’s hurling skill in attack shone through with Pa Horgan superb.

Key Players: 

Several Cork standouts in this side. Anthony Nash in goals is the game’s best distributor from a puck out situation. His unerring accuracy to find Cork options in the middle third has being to the fore and Limerick will need to be on their guard this weekend to the Kanturk’s netminder quick puck outs either short or long range. The keeper is a superb shot stopper and is a leading candidate for an All Star this season. A pivotal last few weeks of the intercounty season could see the goalkeeper All Star switch from Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy to Nash. Interesting times.

The back line unit is solid, defensively tight and capable of assisting in the scoring stakes. Damien Cahalane is the lynchpin of the Cork full back line; his command of the position and ability to organize around him are key traits. The half-back line options are excellent with Mark Coleman the natural standout; his distribution to the forward line is exceptional and his ability to hit long range side line cuts makes the Blarney club man a potent weapon in this All Ireland series.

The midfield area has the right mix of youth and experience. The speed merchant that is Darren Fitzgibbon has being to the fore this season; his ability to outstrip back line defenses with probing runs from deep has yielded several quality scores from play. He is complemented superbly by Bill Cooper whose defensive nous provides protection for the Cork back line unit; Cooper is also capable of chipping in with several scores from play. A class midfield duo partnership.

The forward line is loaded with slick pace and hurling talent. Where do you start? Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston have consolidated their excellent performances of last season. Lehane’s ability to score from long range and to find space in the middle third is a real asset; his relationship with Nash on the puck outs is a key facet of play. Kingston has excelled in recent fixtures; pace and power with an eye for goal.

Seamus Harnedy like Lehane and Kingston has continued in an upward curve this season. His leadership to the fore in the wins over Waterford and Clare in the provincial final in particular. Harnedy’s goal poaching exploits when making runs from deep has caused opposition full back lines serious problems. Harnedy has being the perfect foil for Pa Horgan to impress; the Glen Rovers is just quality. His ability to hit off either side, his ability on placed balls, his game management and work rate sets the tone for the rest of the forward line unit. A class act and a leading contender for HOTY honors this season.

Key Strengths: 

Cork’s passing game through the lines with speed and pace this season has caused endless problems for opposition. The first touch of Cork this season has being sensational at times and their ability to pass the ball to a colleague without breaking stride has created numerous scoring chances. Coleman, Joyce, Fitzgibbon, Meade have reveled in this facet of play.

Resiliency has being a keyword associated with Cork this season. John Meyler and side have shown great composure to pull out several results this season. The Munster SHC final was a perfect example; struggled for tempo and cohesion in the opening half but hung in there until half-time where a late 1-1 gave them the lifeline to roar into the second half. Fight and determination aplenty in this side.

Cork’s skill set is superb; if the All Ireland semi-final defensive structures loosen sufficiently, then Cork’s inside forward line will fancy their chances of creating goal scoring chances. Pa Horgan and Seamus Harnedy are serious threats inside and when you consider the half forward options available, good things will happen for Cork.

Key Weakness: 

There has being performance inconsistency with Cork this season. Every contest has seen Cork struggle for a period of the game. Clare in the round robin game were in contention until the last ten minutes when Cork produced a strong finish to win. Tipperary game saw Cork stride out in front with a big lead in Thurles only to be pegged back in the second half; the middle third was dominated in the third quarter. Limerick game saw Cork look a bit ponderous with ball in hand allowing Limerick to secure a draw. Waterford had good moments in the opening period. You get the trend; Cork have yet to produce a complete full game performance. Limerick will be forewarned that it is not them that experiences this.

Croke Park. This group of players are under pressure to deliver at HQ this weekend after last season’s cameo. Cast your mind back twelve months, Cork were riding on a crest of a wave. Munster SHC kingpins. Confidence soaring with fans talking of a potential All Ireland. The All Ireland Semi-Final against Waterford was a video nightmare; nothing went right for Cork on the day. Waterford exposed aerial mismatches (Brick Walsh on Coleman) paid good dividends and with Cork having to chase the game, Waterford’s running game created a couple of goal chances which were dispatched. Throw in the red card for Pa Horgan. Enough said. Limerick will look to prey on these fears and if they can take Cork down the stretch, the gremlins from twelve months past may surface.

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