EVERYBODY said it couldn't be done. Everybody, that is, except a driven Limerick squad who used their rank outsiders' odds as motivation to propel them to heig...
EVERYBODY said it couldn't be done. Everybody, that is, except a driven Limerick squad who used their rank outsiders' odds as motivation to propel them to heights which Cork failed to reach in a truly absorbing Guinness Munster hurling quarter-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
If yesterday's game is a barometer for the hurling season ahead, then it's going to be something quite special.
That is no consolation to Cork this morning as they reflect on the end of their two-year reign as Munster champions but it will send a surge of pride through Limerick blood as they look ahead to a Munster semi-final date with Waterford in Cork next Sunday week.
According to the script, Limerick would lose their fourth consecutive first round game, probably by a considerable margin.
Not even the absence of Sean Óg Ó hAilpín and Brian Corcoran (he came on as a second-half sub) from the starting line-up could prevent Cork from launching the 2000 championship campaign with style and efficiency. Or so it was generally thought.
Cue the Limerick team chatting among themselves over the past few weeks and also listening to their manager, Eamonn Cregan, telling them that all was not as it seemed.
Somewhere from deep inside their sense of spirit and resolve, they constructed a super effort which enabled them to whip up a tornado while also calming Cork's strongest gales.
Ultimately, Limerick won by just one point, but they shot 16 wides and might also have had at least two more goals, statistics which underline the extent of their superiority.
On another day, when Limerick were less driven, they might have melted on a warm Leeside afternoon when Cork wiped out their six point interval lead (1-10 to 0-7) to open up a one point advantage (1-14 to 1-13) with 11 minutes remaining.
This time, Limerick refused to take 'no' for an answer either from themselves or Cork and delivered a powerful finishing burst.
Two pointed frees by Paul O'Grady gave Limerick the lead before Mark Landers fired over the equaliser in the 64th minute.
However, Limerick captain Barry Foley showed Formula One-style nerve to steer a sideline cut over the Cork bar two minutes later. It was point conceived of sheer ambition, born of expertise and celebrated with style by Limerick and their ecstatic supporters.
More scoring chances fell to both sides in the closing minutes, but none of them were pointed and, with referee Pat Horan allowing no stoppage time, just as he had done in the first half, Limerick counted down the clock while desperate Cork simply couldn't haul themselves back from the cliff edge.
"You won't find me complaining about stoppage time or the referee," said Cork manager Tom Cashman, rather philosophically, afterwards. "Limerick deserved to win the game it's as simple as that."
It was an accurate assessment of Limerick's day.
They created momentum levels not seen since their 1996 Munster final win over Tipperary and, more importantly, had the will and spirit to treat adversity as nothing more than a minor irritant waiting to be banished.
That vital quality was at its most crucial in the second half after Cork, who had the wind behind them, out-scored Limerick by 1-7 to 0-3 in 24 minutes.
Full-back Diarmuid O'Sullivan, who fought a fascinating battle with Brian Begley all day, started the Cork revival with an inspiring point from 110 yards and Alan Browne took it a stage further when he whipped home a goal in the 39th minute.
As the giant red shadows lengthened across the Limerick landscape, it looked as if there might be a repeat of last year when Cork eased to a nine-point win, but this time, all had changed.
Limerick appealed to their emotions and got a positive response, which ultimately won them the day.
They should never have made it so hard on themselves. They were so competitive, compact and convincing in the first half that they made Cork look way off the pace and tempo of the game.
Mark Foley, who gave an outstanding exhibition of left half-back play, Brian Geary, Stephen McDonagh, Mike O'Brien, Ollie Moran, James Butler, Barry Foley and Brian Begley were particularly effective as Limerick galloped into the fray with relentless intent and enthusiasm.
Begley's dual with O'Sullivan was fascinating.
Begley scored 0-3 (he might have had at least one goal) and also won some good ball but O'Sullivan, to his credit, made some mighty catches and was one of the few Corkmen who retained the obsessional levels of previous years.
Limerick's goal came in the 11th minute, when Butler skipped across from left to right, won possession and flashed the ball past Donal Óg Cusack.
Limerick's dominance continued right through the half, forcing Cork to survive on meagre rations.
However, Limerick's inaccuracy, allied to Cork's ability to make the most of limited opportunities, kept the margin down to six points at half-time.
Cork, for whom John Browne, Diarmuid O'Sullivan, Wayne Sherlock, Mark Landers and Alan Browne worked extremely hard, succeeded with their second half comeback.
But just when they thought that they could accelerate into the semi-final, Limerick injected themselves with self-belief and determination, a potent mix which eventually sunk Cork.
MAN OF THE MATCH Mark Foley
SCORERS Limerick: P O'Grady 0-5 (3f); J Butler 1-1; B Foley 0-4 (1 sideline); O Moran, B Begley 0-3 each. Cork: A Browne 1-2; J Deane 0-4 (3f); B O'Connor, S McGrath, B Landers 0-2 each; P Ryan, D O'Sullivan, J O'Connor 0-1 each
LIMERICK T Houlihan 8; S McDonagh 8, TJ Ryan 8, B Geary 8; C Smith 7, C Carey 7, M Foley 9; M O'Brien 8, J Moran 7; P O'Grady 8, O Moran 8, M Keane 6; J Butler 8, B Begley 8, B Foley 8. Subs: J Foley 7 for Keane (ht); D Reale 7 for C Smith (45); E O'Neill 7 for J Moran (57); C Smith for O'Brien (65)
CORK D Og Cusack 7; F Ryan 6, D O'Sullivan 8, J Browne 8; W Sherlock 9, P Mulcahy 6, D Barrett 6; M Landers 8, P Ryan 6; T McCarthy 5, A Browne 8, J O'Connor 7; S McGrath 7, J Deane 7, B O'Connor 7. Subs: K Murray 7 for McCarthy (31); B Corcoran 7 for Ryan (ht); N Ronan 6 for J O'Connor (42)
BOOKED Limerick: B Begley (20); M O'Brien (44); S McDonagh (45) Cork: W Sherlock (20); K Murray (45), N Ronan (49)
WIDES Limerick 16; Cork 8. FREES Limerick 12; Cork 6
ATT 37,792. REF P Horan (Offaly)