Hurling. The sport that just keeps on giving. Less than twenty-fours after Western rivals Clare and Galway entertained hurling fans with sixty-two scores and another mouthwatering replay next weekend, there was plenty of expectation coming into this all Munster last four tussle. By god, did Limerick and Cork deliver. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to dissect the key points to Limerick’s victory.
The contribution of Nicky Quaid in this contest must be a prominent key to Limerick’s victory. Quaid comes from a family steeped in Limerick hurling goalkeeping tradition. Nicky Quaid was solid throughout with his puck out strategy but two key moments come to mind instantly.
The opening half save against Shane Kingston was world class; a quality shot from the dangerous Cork forward produced a superb reflex save from the Effin net minder. The second save came right at the end of normal time; saves like this define seasons for teams.
Harnedy who was a constant threat for the Limerick full back line all game looked destined to shatter Limerick dreams, close range, ready to pull the trigger but Quaid instinctively flicked the ball from the hurley of Harnedy and the danger was averted. Limerick cleared their lines and pushed on in extra time to win this contest. An amazing contribution from the Limerick keeper and more of the same in three weeks could see Limerick win the All Ireland final.
A key facet of this Limerick’s dynamic is their ability to bounce back and continue to execute the game plan even when the opposition has had an excellent period of play. When Conor Lehane superbly took advantage of a defensive lapse to unleash an unstoppable shot into the Limerick net, the Treaty Men were looking down the barrel. Six points down. Past Limerick teams would have lost composure, lost the plot in shot selection and aimlessly hit ball back to the opposition.
This side is a different animal. The response was akin to that against Kilkenny two weeks ago. Shane Dowling showed huge leadership to dispatch a key free and point from play to reduce the arrears. The score sprung Limerick back into life as Cork suddenly lost composure and pace; Limerick could sense it and further scores from Hayes, Gillane (2) and then that man Dowling to level the scores. Defining ten minutes between fifty-eight to sixty-eight.
Cork’s decision to sit on their lead back fired and Limerick were not going to be asked twice to gain a foothold again in the contest. Cork may have salvaged a point to get to extra time but Limerick had all the momentum heading into extra time.
Goals win games
Limerick won this contest by virtue of two superb extra time goals. Dowling’s contribution to this game when coming off the bench was nothing short of sensational. The Na Piarsaigh’s run into the Cork penalty area in the second period of extra time saw Cork having to foul the target man. Penalty. What would Limerick do? Go for a point or go for the jugular? Dowling emphatically dispatched the penalty into the top corner giving Nash no chance. A four point margin established and Cork had to attack and leave spaces defensively. Cue Peter Casey, Barry Nash, David Reidy and Pat Ryan to exploit the space.
Ryan’s pace in extra time seen to full effect as he outstripped Cahalane on the bye line before dispatching an unbelievable lob over Nash to score. The third goal scored by Limerick; a more accurate assessment of Limerick’s goal scoring threat.
Gillane alone had three outstanding goal chances; his ability to create the chances was superb but composure is now required from the player to convert these chances. The habit of throwing the hurl and kicking the ball needs to be reviewed in the coming weeks. Cian Lynch’s opening goal cannot be dismissed; a quality strike on the stroke of half-time. Lynch taking a quality pass from Flanagan on the flank. The shot was emphatic; goals win championship games.
Sub Bench Impact
In my blog last week, I mentioned the fact if Limerick could be there or thereabouts with Cork heading into the final quarter that they would win the contest. As both teams started to fatigue, new faces were required to provide the necessary tempo and impetus to allow their side to get over the line.
I think it is fair to say that in terms of squad depth today, Limerick won the bench impact battle. A look at the scoring stats off the bench speaks its own story. Dowling 1-4. Ryan 1-0. Reidy 0-1. Nash 0-1. Limerick scored 2-6 off the bench and then you compare that with Cork who only had a point from O’Connor.
This was a decisive victory for Limerick off the bench. Extra time exposed Cork’s lack of attacking options. Alan Cadogan was a miss for Cork but if John Meyler and management staff have learned anything from today, it is that new attacking talent needs to be identified and brought into the squad.
Half Back Woes
A strange, strange contest in that neither half-back line asserted any great dominance for long periods. Both units were struggling to cope with the movement of their attacking threats. Numerous half-back players were either caught in possession or were exposed for positional lapses.
Limerick’s half back line will need to improve for the All Ireland final; Cork had opportunities in the third quarter to pull away but were guilty of several poor misses. The Limerick half back line should buy a drink for their colleagues in midfield and full back line who cleared endless ball and assisted the unit throughout.
Cork themselves had big issues in the half-back line particularly in the closing extra time minutes; no player from the unit put the hand up to lead the side and set the platform. An interesting cameo from the contest.
Limerick All Ireland Bound
Croke Park and Limerick teams have had a volatile relationship in recent years. Past teams since ’73 have thought that this was the year only to be upstaged by a superior outfit or a general team performance failure. This Limerick side looks different to other teams that have gone before. The scoreboard tally of 3-32 is incredible. The composure of the side on point when the pressure was applied by Cork. The players play without fear; mistakes were made but the players bounced back and focused on the next ball.
This is a side which Limerick fans all across the world should embrace, appreciate and be proud of. It is time to refocus for the final; that means the media, supporters giving the team support but not create a frenzied hyped environment. The players and management need to recuperate, regroup, focus on the final; there can be no more sad stories coming from Limerick hurling in Croke Park this season. A glorious final opportunity has arisen and Limerick need to take this opportunity with both hands. With the Cranberries playing after the game finished, feeling something different about this Limerick side.