Wednesday 19 June 2019

Kiely calm as Rebels’ steel ends Limerick’s winning run

Cork 2-21 Limerick 1-21

Stop me if you can: Cork’s Conor Lehane tries to get away from Seán Finn during the Allianz Hurling League match at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Stop me if you can: Cork’s Conor Lehane tries to get away from Seán Finn during the Allianz Hurling League match at the Gaelic Grounds. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So a rollicking repudiation in the All-Ireland champions' back yard of any notion that Cork maybe regard a good league run as something that might leave them prone to travel sickness.

They've always seemed a little out of sync with winter hurling (last league title 1998) but, then, the Gaelic Grounds had an almost balmy ambience yesterday as John Meyler's men aggressively went after the new kingpins of the game, inflicting their first defeat of this campaign.

Peter Casey of Limerick in action against Robert Downey of Cork. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Peter Casey of Limerick in action against Robert Downey of Cork. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

It was a game that called back into colour memories of those spectacular collisions last summer too when these great Munster rivals appeared separated by little more than a sneeze in the clouds.

Cork won this time by dint of a collective effort not always conspicuous in their hurling on February fields, goals in each half from Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane proving the difference against a Limerick side already safely through to the quarter-finals and one - palpably - unspoiled by the dangerous claws of celebrity.

Because only an intact sense of humility kept them in a game threatening to slip out of reach after a lightning opening from the Munster champions that created a 1-6 to 0-2 gap in less than quarter of an hour.

The goal came in the ninth minute, Patrick Horgan fielding a Christopher Joyce delivery over Tom Condon's head and firing to the Ennis Road net, Cork's early tactic of going direct clearly unsettling the Limerick full-back line.

Little signals betrayed Limerick's restlessness. Through those early flurries, they were sloppy in contact and routinely disarmed by Cork's unfamiliar willingness to engage - high or low - with consistent physicality.

So this was a different face to Cork and, against a Limerick attack clearly missing the absent Aaron Gillane (he played in Saturday's Fitzgibbon Cup final) and Kyle Hayes (who came on at the death), Meyler's men saw big opportunity here and duly took it.

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They were nine points up (1-10 to 0-4) by the 26th minute, the majority of the 13,407 attendance murmuring uncomfortably at Limerick's mounting error count.

But then Pat Ryan came torqueing in off the left wing to set up Peter Casey for a goal, the roof of the Mackey Stand almost lifting with the eruption.

Patrick Horgan of Cork claims the ball ahead of Tom Condon of Limerick on his way to scoring his side's first goal. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan of Cork claims the ball ahead of Tom Condon of Limerick on his way to scoring his side's first goal. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The margin, though, remained six at the mid-point (1-13 to 1-7), albeit Casey pointed within 13 seconds of the resumption. Quick scores followed too from Shane Dowling, Diarmaid Byrnes and Seamus Flanagan and - with the margin now down to just two and half an hour still to play - John Kiely seemed entitled to think the damage had been undone.

But Cork got the next two scores through Dan Dooley and Horgan (a free) and Nicky Quaid's short puck-out then came unstuck under a high Cork press, Lehane racing in to fire a well-taken goal that pushed Cork seven points clear again.

The remainder? It was largely an exercise in Cork trying to batten down the hatches, though Lehane was in on goal again from Horgan's sublime 49th-minute flick, only to see his effort rebound off Quaid's right-hand post. Limerick actually outscored the Rebels by 0-8 to 0-1 between the 45th and 66th minutes, drawing level through a Byrnes '65 that - again - had the big attendance in raptures at the character being shown.

But that was when Cork truly showed their mettle, outscoring their hosts 0-5 to 0-2 down the home straight, securing a victory that even Kiely agreed was entirely merited.

Diarmuid Byrnes of Limerick takes a free as Bill Cooper of Cork receives medical treatment. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Byrnes of Limerick takes a free as Bill Cooper of Cork receives medical treatment. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

They were aided, undeniably, by Limerick's leakage of 17 wides, three of Kiely's starting attack failing to finish the game.

Still, the manager was philosophical afterwards about the nature of what he'd seen, revealing few misgivings.

Asked to explain Limerick's tentative start, Kiely observed: "You never really do know with these things but at least the response was there. Sure there had to be a response.

"We knew ourselves we weren't at the level we would be accustomed to having. Listen we march on. We have to take our medicine."

For Meyler, the complexion of Cork's league suddenly looks transformed after back-to-back wins and a struggling Tipperary now next on the line at Páirc Uí Rinn next weekend.

"The attitude and character were really good," said Meyler.

"Any team that I ever managed or was involved with, the work-rate has to be up. The goal from Lehane epitomised that.

"They, Seamus Harnedy and Lehane, closed down the Limerick full-back line and got in for the goal. It was a critical goal.

"It gave us breathing space again."

SCORERS - Cork: P Horgan 1-9 (9fs), C Lehane 1-1, S Harnedy, D Kearney, D Dooley and C Murphy 0-2 each; T O'Mahony (f), B Cooper and A Walsh 0-1 each. Limerick: S Dowling 0-6 (3fs), P Casey 1-3, D Byrnes 0-6 (4fs, 1 '65), S Flanagan 0-2, G Hegarty, T Morrissey, C Lynch and G Mulcahy 0-1 each.

CORK - P Collins 8; S O'Donoghue 7, E Cadogan 7, S McDonnell 7; C Joyce 7, T O'Mahony 8, R Downey 7; C Murphy 7, B Cooper 7; D Kearney 7, S Harnedy 8, D Dooley 7; C Lehane 7, A Walsh 7, P Horgan 8. Subs: J O'Connor 7 for Dooley (60), C Cahalane for Downey (63).

LIMERICK - N Quaid 7; T Condon 7, S Finn 7, R English 7; D Byrnes 7, D Hannon 7, M O'Brien 7; C Lynch 7, D O'Donovan 7; G Hegarty 7, S Dowling 7, T Morrissey 7; P Casey 8, S Flanagan 7, P Ryan 7. Subs: G Mulcahy 7 for Ryan (47), B Murphy 7 for Flanagan (57), K Hayes for Morrissey (66), B Nash for O'Brien (69).

Ref - P Murphy (Carlow)

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