Limerick return to the promised land
Horgan red decisive as Treaty end Munster wait Limerick Limerick 0-24 Cork 0-15 Munster SHC Final
EMOTION bedecked itself in vivid green for fun and frolics in the hot July sun as Limerick swung into a celebration orgy after being liberated from the misery and disappointment of so many barren championship summers.
Their supporters couldn't contain themselves as the game ticked into stoppage-time, nudging impatiently on to the sideline – and indeed on to the playing area – in preparation for a pitch invasion, the likes of which hasn't been seen at the Gaelic Grounds for a very long time.
The Munster title was back in Limerick for the first time since 1996, lured there by the convincing case made by a group of players whose ambition range looks certain to expand considerably over the coming years.
Indeed, in a season which appears intent on maintaining a distinctly rebellious personality where established norms count for nothing, Limerick will believe that they have an excellent chance of ending the 40-year wait for an All-Ireland triumph.
Having beaten Tipperary and Cork, the so-called 'Big Two' in Munster, to book an All-Ireland semi-final date on August 18, their case is particularly interesting and could become even more so as manager John Allen plots for the advance on Croke Park.
But as the Limerick fans remained on the pitch long after the presentation to share in the delightful glow, their Cork counterparts were already on their way home with one topic dominating their thoughts: would it have been altogether different if Patrick Horgan hadn't been sent off on a straight red card just before half-time?
He had already posted four points (two frees, two from open play) and was making a solid contribution to an attack that had asked some awkward questions of the Limerick defence but it all ended suddenly when referee James McGrath dismissed him for a pull on Paudie O'Brien under a dropping ball.
It looked a decidedly harsh call. The game was being played in a very sporting manner so there was certainly no background context to the incident. Horgan's reputation further supports the case for giving him the benefit of the doubt in a pull which, at worst, looked careless.
However, McGrath waved red, a decision that swung the initiative irretrievably in Limerick's direction. It left Jimmy Barry-Murphy and the rest of his management team facing a completely different test to what they had planned for.
With the scores tied at 0-10 each at half-time, they would have liked to discuss how to further exploit the advantages Cork had enjoyed in the first half while negating Limerick's progressive sectors. But instead they were left figuring out how to minimise the impact of having to play with only five forwards in the second half.
In a game where the balance had been so fine in the first half, it was always going to be a massive challenge. However, the soaring temperatures made it all but impossible for Cork's undermanned attack to find the energy to beat the Limerick defence which had the luxury of a spare man to plug whatever channels opened up.
Limerick won the second-half by 0-14 to 0-5, scoring 0-7 in the final 10 minutes as Cork wilted. It was a tribute to Cork's battling qualities that they stayed within touching distance of Limerick for so long (they were only two points adrift just before the hour mark) but Limerick dominated the closing stages with subs Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling and Niall Moran scoring 0-5 between them.
Cork had to begin their repair work much earlier than they would have planned, sending Jamie Coughlan on for Cian McCarthy at half-time, and had to move again early in the second half when Conor Lehane was withdrawn in favour of Cathal Naughton.
Their next throw of the dice saw them despatch Michael Cussen to the edge of the square in the hope that he would use his great height to extract something from the Limerick resistance. It didn't work because not only did Richie McCarthy and Wayne McNamara secure the centre of the defence, Limerick were also in control further out, which meant there was very little good ball heading towards Nickie Quaid's goal.
Cork badly needed a goal to revive their efforts but it never looked liked coming and, by the end, they had completed their third successive championship game without returning a single three-pointer.
Limerick didn't test Anthony Nash very much either but with their point-taking talents in good working condition they returned a score which would win most games. Ten Limerick men hit the target on a day when their confidence levels increased in direct proportion to Cork's growing insecurities.
While the Horgan incident will weigh heavily on Cork's minds, not least because he will miss the All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Kilkenny, they will also need to reflect on why they didn't make more of the first-half advantages.
They shot 10 wides in the opening 35 minutes, an unusually high error rate, which meant that instead of banking a deposit which would have given them some protection in the second half, they started out level while also under the severe handicap of being a man down.
It presented Limerick with the ideal base from which to wage a real war, which they did to good effect. They led by five points at the three-quarter stage before Cork's dying sting yielded three points in five minutes. It was a courageous display of defiance but Limerick responded with a quick counter-surge which settled the argument.
A superb point from a sideline cut by Declan Hannon was among the scores which delighted Limerick supporters as they counted down the joyous minutes to the final whistle, knowing that the title was finally on its way Shannonside.
While Limerick enjoyed a wonderful occasion, Cork were left to reflect on Horgan's dismissal as the moment when a testing assignment took on an extra layer of difficulty. It has also greatly increased their All-Ireland load as they will now find themselves in a quarter-final clash with Kilkenny rather than in the semi-final.
The latter prize rests with Limerick, who last reached the semi-final in 2009, where they were thrashed by Tipperary. However, they got there via the back door four years ago and weren't nearly as efficient as the confident group who will arrive at Croke Park as Munster champions next month.
Scorers – Limerick: D Hannon 0-8 (5fs, 1s-l), J Ryan, S Dowling 0-3 each, G Mulcahy, S Tobin, K Downes 0-2 each, P O'Brien, P Browne, S Hickey, N Moran 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-4 (2fs), P Cronin, S Harnedy 0-3 each. J Coughlan 0-2fs, D Kearney, L O'Farrell, C Naughton 0-1 each.
Limerick – N Quaid 7; S Walsh 7, R McCarthy 8, T Condon 7; P O'Brien7, W McNamara 8, G O'Mahony 7; P Browne 7, D O'Grady 7; D Breen 7, J Ryan 8, S Hickey 7; G Mulcahy 7, D Hannon 9, S Tobin 7. Subs: S Dowling 8 for Breen (46), C Allis 6 for Mulcahy (52), C King 6 for O'Brien (57), K Downes for Tobin (65), N Moran for Hickey (68).
Cork – A Nash 7; S O'Neill 7, S McDonnell 6, C O'Sullivan 6; T Kenny 7, C Joyce 7, W Egan 6; L McLoughlin 6, D Kearney 7; S Harnedy 7, C McCarthy 5, P Cronin 7; L O'Farrell 6, P Horgan 6, C Lehane 5. Subs: J Coughlan 6 for McCarthy (h-t), C Naughton 7 for Lehane (41), M Cussen 5 for O'Farrell (54), S White 5 for McLoughlin (59).
Ref – J McGrath (Westmeath).
Game at a glance
Man of the match
Declan Hannon (Limerick)
His side's top scorer on 0-8, he mixed accuracy from frees (0-5), open play (0-2) and a line cut (0-1) in an impressive display of shooting on the biggest occasion of his career so far.
Patrick Horgan's dismissal just before half-time swung the balance Limerick's way. An extra man for a full half is always an advantage, all the more so on such a blistering hot day.
What impact did Horgan's sending-off have on the second half? Should he have been dismissed? Those questions will occupy Cork supporters all week. Limerick's only issue is figuring out how far this team can extend the adventure.
The rivers of green which flooded on to the pitch at the end will long be remembered in Limerick. It was the ultimate in an emotional release for the Treaty men who have endured so much heartbreak since their last Munster success in 1996.
James McGrath had no hesitation in giving Horgan a straight red but it's most unlikely that the entire refereeing fraternity would have done likewise. Cork could feel aggrieved that they didn't get a penalty for a foul on Luke O'Farrell.
What they said
John Allen (Limerick manager):
"It's the players' achievement really. I'm just the conduit or the facilitator of what happens. It's a great achievement and just reward for a team that has been very honest in everything they've done."
Tom Kenny (Cork right half-back):
"If we had 15 (players) maybe we would have finished out the game stronger. Obviously it contributed to the final result. We will have to look at our own failings and try and move on from there."
Cork 16 (10 first half) Limerick 11 (5)
Frees Cork 10 (5)
Limerick 13 (7)
(L McLoughlin 22, T Kenny 29, S McDonnell 68);
(P Horgan 35)
Limerick will play in the All-Ireland semi-final on August 18; Cork will play Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-finals on Sunday week.