Supersub Paudie O'Sullivan gives Cork real belief
Cork 2-24 Limerick 0-24 - MUNSTER SHC FINAL
The old ghosts around Pairc Ui Chaoimh can rest easy.
Cork hurlers ended the latest phase of the stadium's existence in the same manner they launched it 38 years ago, by beating Limerick in the Munster final and, almost equally importantly for Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his improving squad, sending hopes soaring that the season could yield even richer dividends later on.
They did it under a hot summer sun, which splashed its approving beams on the grand old amphitheatre, creating a special atmosphere for the last big championship game prior to the closure of the ground for redevelopment.
It may be the end of an era for the stadium, but as Cork supporters congregated in their thousands for the trophy presentation, they were already thinking ahead to even bigger adventures.
And once the satisfaction of landing the Munster title for the first time in eight years subsides for Barry-Murphy and the players, they too will switch their focus to Croke Park business and the distinct possibility of an All-Ireland success.
For while there were aspects of yesterday's performance that come under the 'work in progress' heading, the overall package was solid enough to leave all on Leeside with a very positive mindset.
Limerick are by no means out of the equation either as the only real difference between the teams was that they didn't match Cork in the crucial art of taking goal chances.
It was level at 0-18 each at the end of the third quarter and, since the period after half-time had turned into a point-for-point shoot-out, there was no way of predicting which way the balance would swing. Enter Seamus Harnedy and a cracking 54th-minute goal, scored after a piercing run took him close enough to leave Nickie Quaid with no chance of making a save. It was a decisive score, for while Limerick cut the deficit to two points on a few occasions in the next 10 minutes, it always looked as if they needed a goal to save the day.
Instead, it was Cork who struck again in the 65th minute when Paudie O'Sullivan, who replaced injured captain Pa Cronin at half-time, underlined his value to the team with a coolly-taken goal, which set Limerick a target they were never going to reach.
That Cork could call on a sub of O'Sullivan's stature proved hugely significant, as was an earlier change when William Egan replaced Damien Cahalane, who had found David Breen difficult to handle.
Shane Dowling and Graeme Mulcahy also caused problems for the Cork defence, but, unfortunately for Limerick,they just couldn't get in for the goal that might have made all the difference.
For the second successive year, Limerick scored 0-24 against Cork in the Munster final, but whereas it was enough to win by nine points last year, they came up six short this time.
But then, unlike last July when Cork had Patrick Horgan sent off, they had a full complement yesterday and made it count, especially in the home stretch.
Limerick will look back on the first 20 minutes as the period when their ambitions of retaining the Munster title for the first time since 1981 took a serious hit. They settled into an enterprising rhythm much quicker than Cork, but didn't exploit it as much as they should have.
Shane Dowling drove two early frees wide and, by the seventh minute, Limerick had missed four good chances.
Cork were edgy in the opening quarter, failing to land their first score until the 10th minute and generally looking like a side that hadn't quite warmed up to the demands of the day.
Limerick led by 0-8 to 0-4 after 20 minutes but should have been at least seven points ahead, a margin which would have provided some insulation when Cork eventually powered up their game.
Once that happened, the points flowed. Cork reeled off seven unanswered points between the 22nd and 34th minutes and when Paudie O'Brien broke the run a minute later, it was Limerick's first score for 15 minutes.
They finished the half strongly, out-scoring Cork 3-1 in stoppage-time to leave it level at the interval, 0-12 each.
There was never more than two points between the sides in a third quarter where they were level five times, before Harnedy's crucial goal gave Cork a lead they guarded doggedly all the way to the finish.
The transformation in Harnedy was central to Cork's success.
A largely peripheral figure in the first half, he forced himself into the game right from the restart and, while he missed some early chances, he never lost confidence.
Instead, he worked even harder and, once he pointed in the 42nd minute, his game expanded so rapidly that he became a dominant figure.
Conor Lehane, who scored 0-4 from open play in the first half and Alan Cadogan, who started slowly but played his way into the game once the supply lines straightened, were highly productive too.
Bill Cooper and Aidan Walsh also had some very good moments.
Limerick would have been pleased with much of their defensive work up to the point where they allowed Harnedy so much room to bound in on goal, while Seamus Hickey will be helping with enquiries when the second goal is reviewed. He carried the ball out of defence but was pick-pocketed by Daniel Kearney, who set up O'Sullivan.
In fairness to Hickey, it was the only blemish on his copybook, albeit one that had a major bearing on the outcome.
So then, Cork have joined Kilkenny on the direct route through to the All-Ireland semi-finals, while Limerick will play the winners of Wexford v Waterford in the quarter-final on Sunday week.
They will feel that it's well within their capability range, especially if they act on the lessons taken out of yesterday's game.
As for Cork, the season has opened up nicely for them.
The inertia of the first 45 minutes against Waterford in late May seems like something from a different age, compared to the slickness which underpinned their performance from around the 20th minute yesterday.
"Hopefully, this is the start of a great team and we can go on and win stuff in the next few years," said a delighted Séamus Harnedy afterwards.
One suspects that, deep down, he – and the rest of Cork – believe the project can yield gold much sooner than that. September anyone?
Scorers – Cork: P Horgan 0-8 (6fs), S Harnedy 1-2, C Lehane 0-5, P O'Sullivan 1-1, A Cadogan 0-3, B Cooper, A Walsh 0-2 each, A Nash 0-1 (f). Limerick: S Dowling 0-12 (9fs), G Mulcahy 0-3, D O'Grady 0-2, J Ryan, D Hannon, K Downes, P O'Brien, P Browne, D Breen, W McNamara 0-1 each.
Cork – A Nash 7; C Joyce, S O'Neill 7, S McDonnell 7; L McLoughlin 7, M Ellis 7, D Cahalane 5; D Kearney 7, A Walsh 8; S Harnedy 9, B Cooper 7, C Lehane 8; A Cadogan 8, P Cronin 5, P Horgan 7. Subs: P O'Sullivan 7 for Cronin (ht), W Egan 7 for Cahalane (43).
Limerick – N Quaid 7; S Hickey 7, R McCarthy 7, T Condon 6; P O'Brien 6, W McNamara 7, G O'Mahony 6; J Ryan 7, P Browne 6; D Breen 8, D O'Grady 7, D Hannon 6; G Mulcahy 8, S Dowling 8, K Downes 6. Subs: S Walsh 6 for O'Brien (52), S Tobin 6 for Hannon (54), C King for O'Mahony (67), T Ryan for Downes (68).
REF – B Gavin (Offaly).