IF you’re looking for positives from a Cork point of view ahead of Saturday evening’s Munster SHC semi-final in Thurles, then one may come from the fact that the Rebels haven’t lost a championship game to the Shannonsiders in 70 minutes since 2013.
That Munster final loss wasn’t terminal, either, as Cork came back to reach the All-Ireland final, though of course the near miss against Clare in the decider is one of a few what-if moments in the country’s recent history.
The initial statistic also comes with a pinch of salt in that, while the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final was drawn in normal time, Limerick ultimately triumphed. Cork had led by six points in the closing stages that day and, even though Limerick came back, they still needed a Nickie Quaid wonder-save to deny Séamus Harnedy what would have been a winning goal.
From that point, the counties’ fortunes have diverged and Limerick have won two of the three All-Irelands since. However, it should be noted that Cork went to the Gaelic Grounds the following year and won in the Munster round-robin, so there isn’t any sense of being overawed by John Kiely’s side. The counties’ last clash was in the league in Limerick on the June bank holiday weekend, when a weakened Cork side were well beaten. With just one chance to try to sucker Limerick, it was perhaps understandable that too much of the hand wasn’t shown that night, but manager Kieran Kingston still feels that it can be instructional in terms of Saturday.
‘There’s a lot we can take from it, yeah!’ he laughed.
‘Obviously, as I said after the game, the championship will be determined by who has taken the most from the league game and the most from the league campaign. We would like to think that we learned a lot that night and learned a lot from the campaign. The games you lose, you probably learn more from and it’s about whether we can take it on to the field next Saturday night.’
And yet, as well as Cork might play, there is still a sense that they will need Limerick to under-perform. Kiely has assembled a formidable squad, with scoring potential in every line of the field, with enough aerial ability to make life tough if Cork go long and – as shown in the league – sufficient defending from the front to frustrate a short passing game. Crucially, they have 20 or so top-level players, whereas there are more question-marks about Cork’s capabilities, simply because they are behind Limerick on the developmental curve.
Cork scored 18 goals in the league and, given that Limerick can routinely score 30 points, one would think that at least three green flags might be needed to beat them. It might happen, but there are fewer variables involved in assessing Limerick. Losing would not necessarily be a disgrace or a cause for crisis, but it’s important that, if Cork do finish second-best, they have enough positives to take into the qualifiers.