Thrilling draw sees Cork and Limerick ignite the summer
Cork 1-25 Limerick 0-28
This wasn't the official launch of the hurling championship but it was undeniably the evening it spread its wings, with an inestimably thrilling match before a deeply appreciative audience of 34,606 at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
There was so much to the match that it is impossible to do it justice in a single report but, near the end of a scoring exhibition, Limerick snatched a deserved draw through a Kyle Hayes point with a minute left of injury time.
That Limerick did it with 14 men for more than half the game is all the more commendable. In the 26th minute Aaron Gillane received a red card after appearing to strike Sean O'Donoghue off the ball. Referee James Owens consulted with a linesman, called Gillane over and one of Limerick's prized forwards, and their first-choice free-taker, was gone.
Given the way Cork play, with precise short passing that exposes gaps in an opponent's armoury, this did not bode well for Limerick. But Tom Morrissey took over the free-taking and didn't miss a thing. He went on to have his best match in a Limerick shirt as a senior player. Graeme Mulcahy worked himself to a standstill. Limerick, who can hurl as well as any team, rolled up the sleeves and flourished in adversity.
The match swayed over and back from start to finish and for any team to lose it after the effort put in would have been cruel. Cork's point brings their tally to four after three games, while Limerick have collected their third point after two rounds. For both teams it may prove invaluable in a Munster round robin where the margins between remaining in the championship and exiting will be threadbare.
When Gillane went off, Limerick were 0-8 to 0-10 behind after the teams had been tied on three occasions. Mark Coleman went sweeper and soon Shane Kingston opened a three-point advantage but Limerick refused to blink. Colm Spillane closed the first-half scoring with a huge point from inside his own half after a loose Limerick clearance but the visitors were breathing down Cork's neck, trailing 0-12 to 0-14.
Limerick had already been dealt a huge blow when they lost centre-back and captain Declan Hannon after just seven minutes, with William O'Donoghue coming in and Dan Morrissey taking over in the middle of their defence. But Limerick managed every crisis that came their way and all those attributes one associates with the county's character came to the fore.
After half time Pat Horgan, who finished with another huge haul of 1-11, nine points from placed balls, had a free that extended the Cork lead and you might have thought that the numerical advantage would start to tell. Instead, Limerick hit back with a Morrissey free, before the outstanding Seamus Flanagan placed Cian Lynch for a point and Mulcahy clipped over the equaliser at 0-15 a piece with 40 minutes played.
Flanagan was immense and Cork were obliged to take Damien Cahalane off him. He scored five points from play and set up two other scores, before he had to go off with cramp in the final 10 minutes.
Having got back level, Limerick suffered another set-back in the 44th minute when they coughed up possession and Seamus Harnedy picked out Horgan all in acres of space, making an angle for himself before blasting the ball past Nickie Quaid for the game's only goal.
Limerick got back on their feet and came again. Twice the teams traded points before Limerick hit four in a row; two from Flanagan, a magnificent effort from Darragh O'Donovan after a pinpoint Quaid puck out and then Flanagan again, his fifth, with 51 minutes played, to put Limerick in front, 0-21 to 1-17.
Horgan levelled and then Limerick found another gear. Morrissey landed a free, Flanagan set up Lynch for a score from play and Hayes punished a poor Anthony Nash puck out with a third on the trot a nd Limerick were a goal clear entering the final 10 minutes with Cork's play becoming more ragged.
Horgan responded with a couple of frees as the atmosphere reached fever pitch, but a long-range effort from Dan Morrissey and another free by his brother Tom had Limerick leading by three with five minutes left. Conor Lehane and Darragh Fitzgibbon, who scored four points in all, reduced the deficit and Horgan levelled with three minutes to go from a free after Limerick sub Pat Ryan had blown a goal chance at the other end.
The momentum was back with Cork. Fitzgibbon scored a brilliant point to edge Cork in front and while Diarmuid Byrnes levelled again with a free from his own 65, Horgan's last score, a free, looked to have won it in injury-time. But Cork were pressurised trying to clear and Hayes won possession and hit the equaliser. It was a monumental effort from both teams. Their players and coaching staff may take a bow.
Scorers - Cork: P Horgan 1-11 (0-8 fs, 0-1 65); D Fitzgibbon 0-4; C Lehane 0-3; S Kingston, D Kearney 0-2 each; C Spillane, M Coleman, L Meade 0-1 each . Limerick: T Morrissey 0-9 (0-5 fs); S Flanagan 0-5; C Lynch 0-3; D Byrnes (both fs), D O'Donovan, K Hayes, G Mulcahy 0-2 each, A Gillane (f), G Hegarty, D Morrissey 0-1.
Cork: A Nash; S O'Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Spillane; C Joyce, M Coleman, M Ellis; D Fitzgibbon, B Cooper; C Lehane, D Brosnan, D Kearney; S Kingston, S Harnedy, P Horgan. Subs: L Meade & T O'Mahony for Brosnan & O'Donoghue (half time); M Cahalane for Kingston (60); J Coughlan for Lehane (73).
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; D O'Donovan, C Lynch; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, G Mulcahy. Subs: William O'Donoghue for Hannon (inj 7 mins); D Dempsey fro Hegarty (55); P Browne for O'Donovan (61); B Nash for Mulcahy (62); P Ryan for Flanagan (inj 64).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).
Sunday Indo Sport