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!