Cork know-how could edge out Limerick in what promises to be a whistle-to-whistle Croke Park classic
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Cork v Limerick (tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm, live on RTE and SKY Sports)
HORDES in red and white or green and white will pack Croke Park tomorrow for what promises to be a whistle-to-whistle classic.
What an occasion it will be, and what a contest between two attack-minded, but contrasting sides.
With their mixture of old hands and emerging stars, Cork pin their hopes on a fluent running game that has torn opposition defences to shreds all summer.
Meanwhile, the brash new kids on the block from Limerick, who hope to reach their first Liam MacCarthy Cup final since 2007, left the sliothar do the work and they will need no invitation to drive it long and hard into the Rebels' full-forward line.
Cork have experience and a five-star attacking threat spearheaded by the genius of Pat Horgan and Seamus Harnedy (who is a fitness doubt) but a leaky defence.
Meanwhile, Limerick are talented, but unproven. Driven on by jet-propelled wing-backs Diarmuid Byrnes and Dan Morrissey, they play a direct game and will look to overwhelm the Rebels’ rearguard with Seamus Flanagan, Aidan Gillane, Shane Dowling and Tom Morrissey among their dangermen up front.
There were 56 scores when the counties met in the Munster Championship round-robin series. Cork had nine scorers (Horgan led the way with 1-11) while Limerick had 10 with Tom Morrissey registering eight points (five from frees) and Flanagan conjuring up with six from play.
In the end, they couldn’t be separated after 70+ minutes of full-throttle hurling produced a 1-25 to 0-28 stalemate at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Cork also drew with Tipperary in the Munster round-robin, but wins over Clare and Waterford sealed their place in the decider on July 1. Clare were their opponents but goals from Harnedy and Luke Meade and 11 points from Horgan’s hurl saw them to a nail-biting 2-25 to 3-19 victory.
That scoreline tells the tale of Cork’s Championship season. They are unbeaten, but they have sailed mighty close to the wind at times and Limerick – who go into tomorrow’s battle fresh from beating Kilkenny - will have identified weaknesses they can exploit in a full-back line where Damien Cahalane has come under enormous pressure.
The skill and physical threat of Limerick talisman Morrissey is sure to test them again tomorrow and there has been speculation that Cork will station the experienced Eoin Cadogan on the edge of the square to counteract him.
Morrissey captained Limerick’s U21s to the All-Ireland crown last year, but the 22-year-old refuses to let his mind wander to a senior final before Cork are accounted for.
“We’re good at keeping the distractions away from ourselves,” he said.
“That’ll be one of the main tasks we have coming into Sunday, just keeping the hype of the supporters separate to us.
“We’ve a job to do and we’re focused on that. We’re putting all the distractions aside.”
None of the Limerick players were around the last time the Liam MacCarthy Cup was welcomed to the Treaty County – 45 years ago in 1973.
Like his team-mates, Limerick captain Declan Hannon hopes to end that drought and he expects the closing stages tomorrow to be crucial.
“It is going to be a ferocious challenge,” said Hannon.
“Cork are unbeaten this year, they are the form team, they have been the most consistent out of any of the teams in the country,” he said.
“They have set the standard really, really high so it is going to take a mammoth effort from all of us in Limerick to try to keep pace with them.
“If we are there or thereabouts come the last 10 or 15 minutes we will be giving it everything.”
Cork needs no reminder of the importance of the sprint down the finishing straight. 12 months ago they led Waterford at the 58-minute mark but the Decies hit three late goals and took their spot in the final. Rebels’ manager John Myler hopes his players will have learned their lesson from that painful defeat.
“Semi-finals are there to be won to get into an All-Ireland final, that's where every young fella, every manager, every team wants to be,” he said.
“That's the Holy Grail, that's where you want to be, you don't want to lose semi-finals because you are just only a bridesmaid then.
“We want to win that semi-final on Sunday and I know Limerick will want to win it as well. You could see the passion and the fire coming out of the Limerick people in the stands in Thurles last week. They have a hunger within them as well.”
There is hunger on both sides but the experience of Cork – particularly if skipper Harnedy is passed fit – could decide the outcome of what will surely be a thrilling, high-scoring contest. John Kiely’s men will play their part tomorrow, but Cork’s extra layer of know-how, particularly up front, should see them through to the decider
Paths to the semi-final
Limerick 1-23 Tipperary 2-14
Limerick 0-28 Cork 1-25
Limerick 2-26 Waterford 1-16
Limerick 0-15 Clare 2-26
All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final: Limerick 5-22 Carlow 0-13
All-Ireland SHC QF: Limerick 0-27 Kilkenny 1-22
Cork 2-23 Clare 1-21
Cork 1-23 Tipperary 2-20
Cork 1-25 Limerick 0-28
Cork 1-23 Waterford 1-20
Final: Cork 2-28 Clare 3-19
Number - 45
Limerick’s last Liam MacCarthy Cup came way back in 1973 when Eamonn Grimes led the Treatymen to a seven-point win over Kilkenny.
45 years on manager John Kiely has assembled a talented bunch of hurlers who hope to end their long wait this season.