JOHNNY CAROLAN REPORTS
SMALL margins had a big impact as Cork’s hurling journey for 2023 came to an end but manager Pat Ryan wasn’t interested in claiming moral victories.
For the second week in a row, the Rebels lost by a point in the mid-west, coming up just short against Limerick after the same had happened against Clare. If a draw had been salvaged before a crowd of 40,847 at TUS Gaelic Grounds, Cork would have been in the Munster final with Tipperary eliminated but instead they departed the championship.
In the immediate aftermath of the game, going so close was of no comfort to Ryan.
‘We’re gutted,’ he said. ‘Our job was to get out of the Munster championship. We were looking to win an All-Ireland but we knew it was going to be very competitive. There’s huge disappointment.
‘We’re not interested in false platitudes, trying your best – that’s the expectations we have of the lads and in fairness, that’s what they’ve created themselves this year and that’s the way they’ve played.
‘We don’t take any solace in hollow victories from close defeats.’
Cork’s task looked bleak when Limerick hit their stride midway through the second half. A contentious penalty award for a Seán O’Donoghue challenge on Aaron Gillane led to wing-back Diarmaid Byrnes drilling a shot to the top corner for a 3-15 to 0-20 advantage.
While Patrick Horgan did reply with a pointed free for Cork, a Tim O’Mahony goal effort went wide and six consecutive Limerick points had them 3-22 to 0-24 in front with just 11 minutes left.
All year, Cork have made late surges and they did so again, with Horgan’s goal underpinning a fightback that was driven by Ciarán Joyce, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Séamus Harnedy. Unfortunately for Cork, parity was out of reach and, though Horgan’s 14th point of the day left one in it deep in injury time, Limerick claimed the puckout, the victory and the Munster final spot against Clare thanks to Tipperary’s collapse against the already-eliminated Waterford.
It meant that four championship games had yielded a win over Waterford, a draw with Tipp and two one-point defeats, leaving Cork without a chair as the music stopped. They did a lot right here though and certainly asked questions of a Limerick team that produced its best performance of the year to date.
While John Kiely’s side looked to have got on top as Séamus Flanagan made it 0-7 to 0-5 on 15 minutes, Cork then hit six on the trot to go into a deserved lead. Had they struck a goal during their period on top, the Shannonsiders might have wavered but Limerick blocked the attacking lanes and made use of space at the other end.
They had pulled back to within three points, 0-12 to 0-9, when Flanagan struck for their first goal on 22 and when another followed, from Cathal O’Neill on the half-hour, it was 2-10 to 0-15. A three-point lead was soon established as Cork were reeling but they recovered well and points from Harnedy and Horgan (two) left them level at half-time.
The opening stages of the second half were similarly even before the penalty moved Limerick four in front. That, and the subsequent scoring burst, asked big questions of Cork but they never relented, even if the result ultimately went against them.
‘You’re up against the All-Ireland champions,’ Ryan said, ‘you have to keep fighting and fighting and fighting.
‘Would I be disappointed with the two goals we gave away? Definitely, they were probably two mistakes, really, more than anything but they have very good players inside.
‘They create a lot of space with the way they play out around the middle. You just have to trust your lads inside and we did but they were two mistakes.
‘We gave away possession. There were two balls into the keeper’s hands and they worked the ball out – with Limerick, we had spoken about the need to hit the ball dead.
‘They’re just the small margins. Limerick are a long time on the road, they’re a fantastic team and we wish them the best of luck as they go forward.’
Limerick: D Byrnes 1-4 (1-0 penalty, 1 65), S Flanagan 1-3, A Gillane 0-5 (2f), C O’Neill 1-0, D O’Donovan, G Hegarty 0-3 each, T Morrissey 0-2, W O’Donoghue, B Nash, P Casey, D Hannon, K Hayes 0-1 each.
Cork: P Horgan 1-14 (11f), D Fitzgibbon, S Harnedy 0-4 each, D Dalton 0-3 (2f), S Kingston 0-2, T O’Mahony, L Meade, R Downey 0-1 each.
Limerick: N Quaid; M Casey, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes, D Hannon, K Hayes; D O’Donovan, W O’Donoghue; G Hegarty, C O’Neill, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, P Casey.
Subs: R English for Hannon (54), D Reidy for O’Neill (57), C Coughlan for M Casey (64), G Mulcahy for P Casey (65), C Lynch for O’Donovan (67).
Cork: P Collins; N O’Leary, D Cahalane, S O’Donoghue; G Millerick, C Joyce, R Downey; D Fitzgibbon, L Meade; B Roche, T O’Mahony, S Harnedy; D Dalton, P Horgan, S Kingston.
Subs: B Hayes for Roche (39), C Lehane for O’Mahony (54), P Power for Kingston (58), E Twomey for Meade (60), S Barrett for Dalton (65).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).