it may have only been the first round of the Munster minor hurling championship but as the Limerick players mingled happily with supporters afterwards on the Gaelic Grounds pitch on Wednesday night, it felt a whole lot more important than that.
And that’s probably because it was. Cork are still in the championship because of the safety net of the back door but Limerick’s well-deserved eight-point win gives them a shot at Waterford in the provincial semi-final at the end of June. Win that and they’ll have a big day out on Munster final day and a guaranteed place in the All Ireland quarter-final. Ardscoil Ris have given Limerick hurling a shot in the arm and this particular team could be about to surf the wave.
You have to go all the way back to 1984 for the last time the county won a Munster minor title and since the team of Gavin O’Mahony and Seamus Hickey in 2005, no side has even reached a Munster final. And the charge sheet gets worse. The only side they beat since 2006 was Kerry last year so in that context to beat Cork by eight points, and be full value for that win, makes it a great day for Limerick hurling.
There’s nothing won yet of course but at least there’s signs of life again. This was a fine performance and although the game was alive for the best part of the hour, once Brendan O’Connor struck for Limerick’s second goal with three minutes remaining, it took all the mystery from it.
Cork were poor, scoring only three points from play, and relying way too heavily on the free-taking of Robert O’Shea but Limerick never looked like coughing up goal chances. PJ Hall was assured in goals, Ciaran Keogh and Barry Lynch stood out in a solid defensive unit while Diarmuid Dee and Dan Morrissey combined well in midfield.
But the real stars were up front. Jack Aherne’s first-half goal, straight from a sideline cut and helped to the net amid confusion in the Cork goal, set Limerick up well but by then Limerick had already lost Shane Dowling to a shoulder injury.
There was only nine minutes gone when Dowling collapsed in pain, at which stage Limerick were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead with the Na Piarsaigh man having accounted for all of Limerick’s tally.
He’d return again at half time to give Limerick a much-needed boost and while Limerick wobbled a bit in his absence, they didn’t fall. David Reidy took over the free-taking duties and and Aherne threatened too. And crucially once Limerick got their noses in front, they stayed there for the remainder of the game.
Cormac Murphy, Cormac Walsh and frees from O’Shea and Kevin O’Keeffe reduced the deficit to a point after Aherne’s goal but Limerick finished the first half with points from Reidy and Ahern and they headed for the dressing rooms at half time with a 1-7 to 0-7 lead.
Dowling’s re-introduction at the break for Eoin O’Farrell was an obvious boost and while O’Shea got the first score with another free, Limerick soon moved up a gear. Reidy and O’Shea swapped scores but three in a row from Dowling (including one monstrous free from the halfway line), gave them a bit of breathing space.
Mike Fitzgibbon tapped over a point to stretch the lead to six and although Cork hit back with two more points, Limerick weren’t to be reeled in. A Reidy free settled any nerves and a cross-field ball from Fitzgibbon found Brendan O’Connor in the square. The big man showed great composure and he finished smartly to the net to finally settle the tie. A Pa O’Callaghan free was Cork’s only consolation andf fittingly the last say went to Dowling when he landed his seventh point.
No finer way to sign off on one of Limerick’s most encouraging days in recent years.
SCORERS - Limerick: Shane Dowling 0-7 (four frees), Jack Aherne 1-2 (1-0 sideline), David Reidy 0-4 (three frees), Brendan O’Connor 1-0, Mike Fitzgibbon 0-1. Cork: Robert O’Shea (all frees), Alan Cadogan, Kevin O’Keeffe, Cormac Walsh, Cormac Murphy and Pa O’Callaghan (free) 0-1 each
limerick - PJ Hall (Adare); Shane Irwin (Bruff), Barry O’Connell (Kildimo), Brian Murphy (Fedamore); Liam Ryan (Doon), Ciaran Keogh (Na Piarsaigh), Barry Lynch (Feohanagh-Castlemahon); Dan Morrissey (Ahane), Diarmuid Dee (Mungret); David Reidy (Dromin-Athlacca), Shane Dowling (Na Piarsaigh), Mike Fitzgibbon (Feohanagh-Castlemahon); Kevin O’Brien (Patrickswell), Brendan O’Connor (Croagh-Kilfinny), Jack Aherne (Kileedy). Subs: Eoin O’Farrell (Croom) for Dowling (injured - 10 mins), Dowling for O’Farrell (half-time), Jason Mullins (St Patrick’s) for O’Brien (41 mins), Jason Lenihan (Dromin-Athlacca) for Fitzgibbon (56 mins) and Chris O’Riordan (Dromin-Athlacca) for Dee (61 mins)
CORK - Gary Minihane; Killian Burke, Colm Spillane, Anthony Dennehy; Cormac Walsh, Darren Sweetman, Killian McIntyre; Robert O’Shea, Cian Buckley; Shane O’Keeffe, Dillon Cahill, Cormac Murphy; Alan Cadogan, John Fitzgerald, Kevin O’Keeffe. Subs: P a O’Callaghan for K O’Keeffe (38 mins), Cillian McSweeney for Buckley (40 mins), Cillian Cullinane for Fitzgerald (48 mins), Patrick White for O’Shea (53 mins)
REFEREE - Damien Fox (Clare)