A classic down by the banks
Diarmuid Sheehan reports from a brilliant see-saw Munster championship match between Cork and Limerick in the Páirc
From a spectacle point of view this game had everything. A huge excited crowd full of anticipation for the event and love for their teams.
It had two teams firing on over 90% with nothing asked or given from either quarter. It had world class scores, yellow cards, a red card, controversy a plenty, a brilliant goal and much, much more.
The rejigged Munster championship had to this point been a roaring success however on Saturday night it definitely went up another notch. This was championship hurling at its best on a beautiful summer's night at a world class stadium.
The atmosphere walking up to the ground had all the feel of a Munster Final with packed pubs, serious banter and seas of red and green mixing seamlessly without a care in the world.
Prior to throw in not even the staunchest of supporters from either camp would have put their hand on heart and swore their side had the edge and that perceived near-parity showed itself on the pitch from the first to the 74th minute.
Cork came into this one after playing two games in just over a week so this one was their third in 13 days but that fact didn't seem to be weighing on anyone's mind when the Rebels were in full flight.
Limerick for their part had seen off Tipperary in a dour affair two weeks earlier so the jury was still out on them, but with a break and some hugely talented players in their line-up they were always going to be worthy of respect.
Tactics were always going to play a part here and neither side would have been that happy to pass on inside knowledge to the other, but Cork were always likely to employ the short puck out and bring intensity and pace to their game while Limerick would use their fitness and undoubted strength up front to try and subdue the home side in front of what was always likely to be a big crowd.
Right from the off this one had classic written all over it with six points after six minutes, nine points after nine minutes and you guessed it, 12 after 12 minutes - with some of the scores coming right from the top drawer.
Both sides were playing all their early cards as Cork reverted back to the way they played against Tipp in the first half, while Limerick were much better than the side that won their first game two weeks previous.
Cork had more of the primary possession, which mainly came about thanks to winning nearly all of their own puck outs and stealing some of Limerick's with many were questioning why Limerick were prepared to give Anthony Nash free reign to do what he wanted as Cork opened up a three point gap.
Moments later the main talking point of the game, Aaron Gillane's sending off, looked like it would could send this game the way of the Rebels, but credit where it is due, Limerick stuck to their plan and went in down by just two.
We can only assume the words were strong in, but dressing rooms at the break with John Meyler surely the happier while for Limerick's John Kiely, a short but pointed lecture on the importance of not panicking was likely to be the main message - and Limerick didn't panic, in fact they took the game to Cork right from the restart and were level within five minutes as Cork looked to be heading for another worrying second half.
A great goal from Patrick Horgan settled the nerves and again the game was on. It is difficult to put into words the next 30 minutes as the sides traded blows at an ever increasing and impressive rate. The players gave it all. They left nothing in the low, piercing sun and served up a thriller by the Lee.
Cork will be disappointed they couldn't take advantage of the extra man and with the thirteen wides they racked up, one more than double what the opposition managed, Cork can't really complain. A brilliant game played by what few could argue are two of the best four in the country right now.
Cork are really going through the ringer this season but with four points after three games and no losses to their name they are clearly on the right track. There seems to be a buzz around Cork right now.
The crowds are back again, the team are responding and together they look, at times, almost invincible - that said, Cork have a long way to go but a win over Waterford in two weekends time will see them into the Munster Final and from there who knows where this team can go.
Overall, last Saturday night ticked many boxes, but the box saying brilliant front runners still needs to be addressed.