KIERAN McCARTHY REPORTS
WHEN Brian Hurley limped off injured in the 48th minute of Cork’s final Division 2 league game, away to Armagh in the Athletic Grounds, in late March, there were genuine fears that he was in trouble again.
Hamstring horrors have haunted him – and cost him at least two years of his career. More when you consider he hasn’t hit top speed since.
Thankfully, his latest hamstring injury wasn’t as serious. It was a small tear.
Hurley rehabbed. The Munster SFC semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn last Saturday was his target. He trained hard. Felt sharp in training. Felt sore afterwards. He took it week by week. And made the starting team. This was the chance he wanted.
Bang. Four minutes in. Ruairi Deane finds Hurley inside, isolated with Limerick full back Sean O’Dea. Hurley collects the ball and turns in a flash. O’Dea’s left on the floor. Hurley’s gone and is one-on-one with Limerick goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan.
With his left foot the Castlehaven man rifles a low shot across the goal. It rattles the net. Cork lead 1-1 to 0-0.
Bang. Bang. One minute later, Deane is again the provider, feeding Hurley with a well-placed kick pass. He’s attacking from the left. He creates a yard of space with his speed. This time, the bullet is fired off the right foot. Laser-like, it honed in on a spot in the bottom right-hand corner of O’Sullivan’s goal. Cork now lead 2-1 to 0-0.
The noises from the Cork camp had been positive in the build-up to this Munster SFC semi-final. Training had gone well, so too had challenge games, and all talk around Hurley said he looked sharp. The Limerick defence can vouch for that.
He’s not back to his best yet – but it’s a step in the right direction. Given what he’s been through, no-one can say he didn’t deserve this.
‘Brian went through a journey that none of us have gone through. I have seen the work he has put in to come back from a horrendous injury. Fair play to him, he got his reward and got a start and took his chances as well,’ Ruairi Deane said afterwards.
‘I’m happy for him because he went through some very difficult mental battles so it’s good to see him back playing to his full potential.’
Late in the first half Hurley missed the chance of bagging a hat-trick when his penalty thundered off the post. Paul Kerrigan had been fouled in the square. Still, a two-goal haul and a menacing performance, this could be the spark that Hurley needed.
He did signal to the bench in the second half that he was ready to come off. But no need to worry. All is good.
By the ninth minute Cork led 2-4 to 0-0. Points from Mark Collins (two frees), Eoghan McSweeney and John O’Rourke, and Hurley’s brace. Deane was the central character in this game, though. The Bantry man started at centre forward but was everywhere. He set-up Cork’s first two goals, he was energetic, aggressive, direct and full of running.
Deane’s getting married in December. After the footwork we saw in the lead up to his goal, and Cork’s third, in the 12th minute, he won’t need dance lessons.
Nimble for a big man, he jinked, jived, soloed and dummied his way through the Limerick defence. Salsa hips. And he had the composure at the end to pass the ball low to the net. It was 3-4 to 0-0 now.
Collins (free and play) and Kerrigan kept up the momentum and Cork led 3-7 to 0-0 after 22 minutes.
Deane could have goaled again when he slalomed through the Limerick defence. He should have passed, didn’t and the chance was missed.
Limerick were shell-shocked. They stunned Tipperary in Thurles to book their ticket here. But the ruthless Rebels’ rampage left them reeling. They did have a goal chance inside the opening minute that could have given the underdogs the dream start. Sean McSweeney’s shot hit the post, then bounced off Cork goalkeeper Mark White and onto the crossbar. Cork cleared. And took control.
‘We targeted getting off the mark quick to spoil their momentum coming into the game,’ Deane explained.
It worked. At half time it was 3-8 to 0-2. Limerick had to wait until the 27th minute for their first score, a Seamus O’Carroll point.
Cork did go 12 minutes without a score in the second quarter so that’s something to work on for June 22nd.
‘In the last ten, 15 minutes of the first half we took our foot off the pedal. It can be hard when you are ahead by nine, ten points, but you need to keep your foot on the gas and push on,’ Deane stressed.
Afterwards, a group of Cork players outside the dressing-room huddled around a phone to catch what they could of the Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Thomas Clancy walked past. He’s a Liverpool fan. He’d heard the score in the dressing-room. Liverpool were 1-0 up. Good stuff. Clancy was very solid on his inter-county return, started centre back and then tucked in full back in the second half when Loughrey went off.
It turned out too what Cork served up on Saturday night was far more entertaining than the offerings in Madrid.
The second half was always going to be tricky for Cork. The rain fell and they were so far ahead but they stayed in control. Collins, playing in the full-forward line, scored Cork’s first four points of the half. They led 3-12 to 0-3 after 48 minutes.
Debutant Eoghan McSweeney finished with three points, two in the second half. Wing back Mattie Taylor’s energy was rewarded with two points. Captain Ian Maguire scored too. Sub Stephen Sherlock added a point. Another debutant Nathan Walsh did well, and Clon’s Liam O’Donovan can be happy with his championship debut.
By the end there were 21 points between the teams. This performance was needed. It’s vindication of the hard work that goes unseen by those outside the group. It’s not time either to get carried away. It’s one win, against a Division 4 team, but it’s the manner that’s encouraging. Cork were a team with a plan. Direct and fast when they needed to. Patient when they had to be. And strong defensively too.
‘You can take a bit of confidence from this, of course,’ Deane says.
‘We still had to go out there and win tonight and we put in, collectively, a very positive performance. We have a lot to work on. We need to be little bit more clinical but we got the job done and now we refocus.’
Kerry are next up and an altogether different battle.
Cork: M Collins 0-9 (5f), B Hurley 2-0, R Deane 1-0, E McSweeney 0-3, M Taylor 0-2, J O’Rourke, P Kerrigan, I Maguire, S Sherlock 0-1 each.
Limerick: D O’Sullivan (3 45s) 0-3, S O’Carroll 0-2, J Lee 0-1f.
Cork: M White; N Walsh, J Loughrey, K Flahive; L O’Donovan, Thomas Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire, K O’Hanlon; E McSweeney, R Deane, J O’Rourke; P Kerrigan, B Hurley, M Collins. Subs: A Browne for Loughrey (39), S Sherlock for B Hurley (44), L Connolly for J O’Rourke (46), K O’Driscoll for Deane (51), K O’Donovan for Thomas Clancy (57), R O’Toole for Maguire (61).
Limerick: D O’Sullivan; B Fanning, S O’Dea, P Maher; C McSweeney, I Corbett, G Brown; D Treacy, T Childs; A Enright, C Fahy, C Fahy, M Fitzgibbon; S McSweeney, S O’Carroll, J Lee. Subs: T McCarthy for Brown (ht), P Nash for A Enright (ht), J Naughton for S McSweeney (ht), P De Brun for C Fahy (44), G Noonan for C McSweeney (56), R Lynch for M Fitzgibbon (56).
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).