O'Sullivan turns it for the Rebels
IT WAS a hard-earned victory, but it was richly deserved in the end and, coming in the wake of seven barren seasons, it was one of the sweetest the Cork hurlers have ever tasted in a Munster final.
It was savoured all the more perhaps for the reason that it avenged last year's defeat by Limerick in the provincial decider, and it marked another significant milestone in the development of a young team that has steadily evolved under the stewardship of Jimmy Barry-Murphy since 2012.
The performance overall might not have quite reached the level of those which they produced in their previous two outings against Waterford and Clare, but it was enough to meet the demands of the day and, in the final analysis, the result was the only thing that mattered at Pairc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday.
Playing into a stiff breeze, Cork took a while to settle, falling three points behind before Aidan Walsh got them off the mark in the 10th. minute, and they trailed by four, 0-8 to 0-4, with 21 minutes gone.
A minute later, however, Limerick wing back Paudie O'Brien was penalised for overcarrying and Cork 'keeper Anthony Nash pointed the resultant free from distance to give the challengers a huge lift.
They had moved three points clear before Limerick responded with a hat-trick of scores to leave the teams tied, 0-12 to 0-12, at the break. Limerick should have been better-positioned on the general run of the play in the first half, and Cork, trailing by 0-8 to 0-6, had every reason to feel relieved in the 25th. minute when Shane O'Neill foiled a goal attempt by Shane Dowling, deflecting the latter's shot out for a '65.
In addition, Dowling has missed a couple of early chances from placed balls, and the Cork defence was under a lot of pressure before the break, with Dowling, David Breen and Graham Mulcahy all showing promise for Limerick up front.
Breen won regular possession against Cork wing back Damien Cahalane early on, but Shane O'Neill and Stephen McDonnell did well to limit the impact from Limerick's inside attackers Dowling and Mulcahy respectively.
Chris Joyce kept a reasonably tight rein on Limerick corner forward Kevin Downes, and Lorcan McLoughlin generally had the measure of wing forward Declan Hannon, while Mark Ellis put in a solid shift at centre back against Donal O'Grady, who did manage to pick off a brace of points when roaming deep from the '40.
At the other end, Conor Lehane was in razor-sharp form at wing forward for Cork, claiming four points from play off Paudie O'Brien, and Alan Cadogan carried an obvious threat every time the ball came his way at corner-forward.
Aidan Walsh kept the flag flying for the Rebels at midfield where the combined efforts of James Ryan and Paul Browne enabled Limerick to enjoy a slight edge, but one felt that Cork needed a greater return from a few others if they hoped to snatch the initiative in the second.
They certainly got that from Daniel Kearney at midfield, and even more so from Bill Cooper and Seamus Harnedy, both of whom thundered into the picture in the half forward line.
Still, Limerick, leading by 0-15 to 0-14 after Shane Dowling shot narrowly over the bar with another goal chance in the 42nd minute, quickly stretched the gap to two points courtesy of David Breen, and it was clear they weren't going to be easily relieved of their provincial crown.
Cork made a crucial breakthrough in the 54th minute, however, when, after Paul Browne, much to his chagrin, had an effort for a point waved wide, Anthony Nash's booming puck-out was picked up by Seamus Harnedy, who powered his way forward to shoot a goal that made it 1-18 to 0-18.
It was by no means plain sailing for Cork after that, as gutsy Limerick remained very much in contention until Paudie O'Sullivan, who certainly paid his way after replacing the injured Pa Cronin at full-forward early in the second half, fired in a second goal for the Rebels in the 65th minute.
After Daniel Kearney smartly dispossessed Limerick Seamus Hickey, the Sars man sent a measured delivery up to O'Sullivan, who eluded the attentions of Limerick full-back Richie McCarthy before deftly knocking the ball home from close range.
Now leading by 2-22 to 0-22, Cork weren't going to be reeled in from there, and, while it would be argued they got the breaks at critical stages of the game, it would be churlish to suggest that they weren't full value for a famous victory overall.
Cork: P Horgan 0-8, 0-6 frees, S Harnedy 1-2, C Lehane 0-5, P O'Sullivan 1-1, A Cadogan 0-3, A Walsh and B Cooper 0-2 each, A Nash 0-1 free.
Limerick: S Dowling 0-12, 0-9 frees, G Mulcahy 0-3, D O'Grady 0-2, D Hannon, K Downes, P Browne, P O'Brien, D Breen and W McNamara 0-1 each
Cork: A Nash (Kanturk), C Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), S O'Neill (Bishopstown), S McDonnell (Glen Rovers), L McLoughlin (Kanturk), M Ellis (Millstreet), D Cahalane (St Finbarr's), D Kearney (Sarsfields), A Walsh (Kanturk), S Harnedy (St Ita's), B Cooper (Youghal), C Lehane (Midleton), A Cadogan (Douglas), P Cronin (Bishopstown), P Horgan (Glen Rovers). Subs: P O'Sullivan (Cloyne) for Cronin (injured) 36, W Egan (Kilbrin) for Cahalane, 43, S Moylan (Douglas) for Cadogan, 69
Limerick: N Quaid, S Hickey, R McCarthy, T Condon, P O'Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony, J Ryan, P Browne, D Breen, D O'Grady, D Hannon, G Mulcahy, S Dowling, K Downes. Subs: S Walsh for O'Brien, S Tobin for Hannon, C King for O'Mahony, T Ryan for Downes
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly)