Limerick in need of quick response to save season
Cork 1-26 Limerick 1-19
A whole lot of souls face intense searches at Limerick's review sessions this week, as they try to figure out how and why the opening leg of their All-Ireland defence bid prompted so little reaction when adversity dropped by the Gaelic Grounds.
Having taken their All-Ireland swagger into the Allianz League, which they also won, there was an expectation that home advantage against a Cork side that had misfired badly against Tipperary a week earlier would provide the required impetus to ease their way into the Munster Championship.
It appeared to be all going to plan after half an hour when they led by four points, while looking as if there were several gear changes to come.
There were, but it was Cork who were at the controls, accelerating clear of heavy-footed opposition, who just couldn't cope with the change of pace. Limerick were outscored by 1-17 to 0-9 over the final 40 minutes, a differential that would have been considerably higher if Patrick Horgan's shooting from frees and play hadn't been corrupted by a mischievous virus.
He shot seven wides -five frees and two from play - over the 70 minutes, but in an impressive example of how top players work their way through problems, he scored 1-9 (1-3 from play). Seamus Harnedy and Daniel Kearney landed 0-4 each while Alan Cadogan, an early replacement for the injured Conor Lehane, potted 0-3.
Lehane was forced off after only six minutes and while it looked like a massive loss, Cadogan more than compensated.
In another telling reflection of the difference between the sides, Cork scored 1-20 from play, compared to 1-7 for Limerick.
Cork manager John Meyler didn't attempt to sugar-coat any aspect of the first round setback, pointing out that Tipperary were "more fluent, sharper, more mobile and better with their support play".
Pointedly, he also talked of Tipperary's hunger which, by implication, raised questions about his own squad's attitude.
Meyler's remarks had a resonance yesterday too, only this time they applied to Limerick, who failed under every meaningful heading in the second half.
As Cork cranked up the power, they must have been surprised at how meek Limerick became. They brought a ferocious intensity to their game during the drive to All-Ireland glory last year, with every player taking lots of responsibility.
That, combined with their systematic play-through-the-lines system, yielded rich dividends, but both broke down irretrievably in the second-half yesterday.
But then it was inevitable that their game plan would collapse when they weren't winning individual battles or coming even close to mopping up a decent share of breaking ball.
They were functional enough in the first-half, the high point of which was a splendid goal, fired in by Graeme Mulcahy from the tightest of angles in the 26th minute.
The build-up was straight from the Limerick manual as a series of passes were interchanged in the middle third before an accurate delivery found Mulcahy, who finished with trademark expertise.
He finished on 1-4 from play and can be absolved from blame for the defeat, while Kyle Hayes maintained a high work rate, albeit with limited return.
Elsewhere in attack, it was all very flat in the second-half, prompting Limerick boss John Kiely to replace four of them, as well as his midfielder Darragh O'Donovan.
Eoin Cadogan led the Cork defence with steely resolve, completely eclipsing Aaron Gillane, while the introduction of Stephen McDonnell for the second-half added to the sense of stability in front of Anthony Nash.
Further afield, Cork blossomed into an awesome force with Kearney, Horgan, Harnedy and Alan Cadogan leaving the Limerick defence in a spin.
Late sub Declan Dalton made quite an impact too, firing over two excellent points. The key period came between the 45th and 58th minutes when Cork outscored Limerick by 1-7 to 0-3, giving them a six-point lead which they protected quite easily all the way to the end.
The win has resurrected Cork's Munster treble hopes, while leaving Limerick with much to assess before playing Waterford in Walsh Park on Sunday week.
Just as Cork improved substantially after a flat opening performance, Limerick will come on from this experience, even if it has shaken their confidence.
They always knew that defending the All-Ireland title would be a tough proposition and they now recognise the full extent of the challenge. Their response will be interesting.
Scorers - Cork: P Horgan 1-9 (6f), D Kearney, S Harnedy 0-4 each, A Cadogan 0-3, L Meade, D Dalton 0-2 each, C Lehane, D Fitzgibbon 0-1 each.
Limerick: A Gillane 0-9 (8f), G Mulcahy 1-4, D Byrnes (2f), S Dowling (2f) 0-2 each, K Hayes, T Morrissey 0-1 each.
Cork - A Nash 7; S O'Donoghue 5, E Cadogan 9, N O'Leary 7; R Downey 6, M Ellis 7, M Coleman 8; B Cooper 7, D Fitzgibbon 7; D Kearney 8, P Horgan 8, L Meade 7; C Lehane (inj 6th min), S Harnedy 8, A Walsh 7. Subs: A Cadogan 8 for Lehane (6), S McDonnell 7 for O'Donoghue (ht),C Joyce 6 for Downey (53), S Kingston 6 for Meade (61), D Dalton 7 for Walsh (67).
Limerick - N Quaid 7; S Finn 7, M Casey 6, R English 6; D Byrnes 5, D Hannon 5, D Morrissey 5; C Lynch 6, D O'Donovan 5; G Hegarty 5, K Hayes 7, T Morrissey 6; P Casey 5, A Gillane 5, G Mulcahy 8. Subs: S Flanagan 6 for P Casey (55), S Dowling 6 for Hegarty (56), W O'Donoghue fgor O'Donovan (61), B Murphy for Mulcahy (61), D Dempsey for Gillane (66).
Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)