Thursday 22 March 2018

Cork hot shots can make Barry-Murphy party like it's 1999

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IN 1999, Jimmy Barry-Murphy staked everything on a new-look Cork team in the Munster semi-final clash with Waterford and was rewarded with an excellent performance which yielded 0-24 in a six-point win. Three months later, Cork were All-Ireland champions for the first time in nine years.

In 2013, Barry-Murphy staked a fair deal on a much-criticised Cork team in the Munster semi-final clash with Clare and was rewarded with an excellent performance which yielded 0-23 in an eight-point win. Three months later, Cork were All-Ireland champions for the first time in eight years...

All except the last detail is true and time may well see it come to pass. There's a growing sense of confidence in Cork that, in a championship that has taken on a really volatile personality, they are as well equipped as any anybody to win the big prize.

Injuries continue to affect them but adversity often comes with solutions too, if those involved are perceptive enough to pick them up. JBM is certainly in that category and has manoeuvred Cork into a situation where they are one win away from booking a second successive All-Ireland semi-final appearance.

It was achieved through the back door last season, whereas now there's a chance to get there as Munster champions. Yet the prize is even bigger for Limerick, who haven't experienced provincial success since 1996.

They were underdogs when Tipperary came to the Gaelic Grounds last month but turned in their best Munster championship display for six years to win by three points and find themselves as narrow favourites to take the title. It's unusual territory, which brings pressures but that's balanced by having home advantage.

Both Limerick and Cork won their semi-finals the hard way, coming from behind against the favourites, so clearly there is no lack of self-belief in either camp. It took a special brand of courage for Limerick to turn a four-point second-half deficit into a three-point win over Tipperary while Cork coped expertly with Clare's running game in the other semi-final.

If the defiance of the Limerick defence, led by Richie McCarthy, Tom Condon and Wayne McNamara, was a major catalyst in Tipp's downfall, it was the point-scoring expertise of the Cork attack, where Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and Luke O'Farrell were major threats, that downed Clare.

It suggests that the showdown between the Cork attack and the Limerick defence will be the major battleground. Clearly, the Cork defence v Limerick attack is hugely important too but one suspects it could end up pretty neutral. That will be enough for Limerick if their defence shackles the Cork attack; conversely with the Rebels if their forwards enjoy a really good day.

It has been a long time since Limerick hurling felt so confident and that, allied to home advantage, puts them in a good position.

However, it's also the case that Cork were unlucky not to reach last year's Munster final but still managed to get into the last four in the All-Ireland race. Much was made of their drop to Division 1B this year but one major power had to go down. Besides, Cork did get the experience of playing five top powers in the league.

John Allen would love to put one over on his St Finbarr's clubmate but JBM is the more likely to be celebrating tomorrow tonight as Cork resume control of Munster and begin to dream of 1999 revisited.

Verdict: Cork

Cork – A Nash; S O'Neill, S McDonnell, C O'Sullivan; T Kenny, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin, D Kearney; S Harnedy, C McCarthy, P Cronin; L O'Farrell, P Horgan, C Lehane.

Limerick – N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O'Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony; P Browne, D O'Grady; D Breen, J Ryan, S Hickey; G Mulcahy, D Hannon, S Tobin.

Irish Independent

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