Cadogan's late show saves Rebels but Kingston plays down title
Cork 1-21 Limerick 1-20
It's been a poor decade for the Cork hurlers, aside from provincial success three years ago, and while it's only January, they went some way to bolstering their trophy cabinet when Alan Cadogan's last-gasp goal secured the Munster SHL final in dramatic fashion.
Trailing by four heading into the final quarter, and with their forward division struggling for traction, the Rebels looked to be finishing their promising pre-season campaign on a damp note, but the arrival of Séamus Harnedy helped turned the tide.
On target within 90 seconds of his introduction, the St Ita's attacker later sent an inviting diagonal ball across the Limerick square, which man of the match Cadogan caught before wriggling his way through a number of defenders and firing past Nickie Quaid from a tight angle.
It was a fitting finish to an enjoyable contest, played in front of 2,372 at the Gaelic Grounds.
However, Kieran Kingston, who has guided his side to five competitive wins in a row after a disastrous 2016, knows the acid test will come next month in their Allianz Division 1A League opener against Clare.
Winning tight games hasn't been Cork's forte in recent seasons and while new talents like Shane Kingston, son of manager Kieran, and Mark Coleman have been unearthed, the Cork boss moved quickly to play down expectations in the county.
"We're delighted with the win. It's Cork's first time winning it, but we have to park it now," he said.
"We're trying to build a strong panel, a blend of new lads and experience. We're doing that, but we have to keep the whole thing in context - it's January.
"We have a long way to go and a lot of developing to do before we can sit at the top table. We know that and I think everybody else knows that as well. I'm happy mostly about the effort.
"You'll never be fully satisfied because there are always things you think are fine and then you see a game and you think 'Jesus, we thought we'd cut that out'. But that's all part of it."
Kingston has injury worries ahead of that Páirc Uí Rinn tie on February 11, with their entire full-back line - Colm Spillane (hamstring), Damien Cahalane (hand) and Stephen McDonnell (ankle) - replaced at different stages.
After shipping seven goals in a 21-point drubbing to the Rebels two weeks ago, there was no sign of a Limerick hangover, with John Kiely encouraged by some "awesome" defensive work.
Diarmaid Byrnes and former All-Star Richie McCarthy were excellent, with the 2015 U-21 All-Ireland-winning manager saying his side are "bedding down nicely".
"We sucker punched ourselves," he said. "We had plenty of chances to put the game into a safer position. We should've had a four or five-point lead and we left ourselves vulnerable to that goal.
"Cork really wanted to win this competition, they went all out and beat us 21 points two weeks ago, so we've closed it to one.
"You couldn't have written a better script for the last month apart from the goal at the end, because the lads have learned a lot. It was great for the younger lads, what they've garnered out of it is a lot of confidence."
In a game which was level nine times, Cork scorched into an early lead, but the lively David Dempsey, a club All-Ireland winner with Na Piarsaigh last March, hit back with a brilliantly worked goal made possible by an exquisite James Ryan pass.
With Limerick coughing up few goal chances, but at times overplaying their short-passing game, most of Cork's scores came from out the field, with Conor Lehane (3), Patrick Horgan (2) and Kingston (2) on target in an exciting first-half.
Free-taker Peter Casey and Graeme Mulcahy (3) were the chief score-getters at the other end and a late flurry left the home side two points ahead at the break, 1-11 to 0-12.
The closing period took time to come to life as Byrnes' long-range frees extended Limerick's advantage, before Horgan, Kingston and Harnedy kept the Rebels in touch. When Dempsey, quickly followed by Byrnes, pointed, Cork's goose looked cooked.
Up stepped Cadogan, however, to deliver the telling blow deep into injury-time.
SCORERS - Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (6f), A Cadogan 1-2, C Lehane and S Kingston 0-3 each, S Harnedy, D Brosnan, M Coleman and D Kearney 0-1 each. Limerick: P Casey 0-7 (6f), D Dempsey 1-3, D Byrnes 0-4 (3f), G Mulcahy 0-3, B Nash, K Hayes and G Hegarty 0-1 each.
CORK - A Nash; D Cahalane, C Spillane, S McDonnell; M Ellis, C Joyce, M Coleman; L McLoughlin, D Fitzgibbon; C Lehane, L Meade, S Kingston; A Cadogan, P Horgan, D Kearney Subs: K Burke for Spillane, D Griffin for Cahalane and D Brosnan for McLoughlin (all ht), S Harnedy for Fitzgibbon (58), C O'Sullivan for McDonnell inj (70 +4)
LIMERICK - N Quaid; M Casey, R McCarthy, S Cahill; D Byrnes, D Hannon, G O'Mahony; P Browne, J Ryan; G Hegarty, D Dempsey, K Hayes; P Casey, B Nash, G Mulcahy. Subs: C Lynch for Ryan (59), K O'Brien for Hayes (68), S Tobin for Mulcahy (70 +5)
REF: P Kelly (Tipperary)