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5 talkings points after Limerick and Cork meet ahead of Munster semi-final battle

It finished 0-33 to 2-19 in favour of Limerick last night in the Gaelic Grounds.

Limerick and Cork players battle for possession.
Limerick and Cork players battle for possession.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. A dress rehearsal for championship

The 2021 compressed season threw a fixture curveball here at the Limerick and Cork camps. A league game on the June Bank Holiday weekend before a Saturday night fixture that will have a different complexion, Thurles hosting knockout Munster championship fare.

That begs the glaring question – how much meaning can be placed on the outcome of last night’s game? Consider the team selections. Limerick began with nine of their All-Ireland final winning side from last December. Cork’s selection had a strong emphasis on youth, Damien Cahalane the sole starter over the age of 24.

Did Limerick require the victory more, given they had yet to record one in the league to date? Did Cork need to produce a more competitive showing to prove they can challenge the champions on a bigger stage?

The renewal of acquaintances in four weeks will reveal more.

2. New Limerick youngsters shine

Having collected two All-Ireland senior crowns in the last three seaons, Limerick do not lack raw materials on the playing front. But they have looked to replenish their squad in 2021, most strikingly in the two Leaving Cert students pressed into action.

Cathal O’Neill started in attack against Galway and came on as a sub against Cork, Colin Coughlan made his debut last night at wing-back. By the close of play, they had both posted a pair of points on the board.

“To be fair, all the young lads contributed – to our training, to the games they’ve been in,” said John Kiely.

“It’s a long road ahead for those lads, they have to take learnings every day they go out. If they keep building their confidence and on their performances they’ll make a big contribution in the future.”

3. Cork’s tactical dilemma

The early stages of the league had been promising for Cork and defined by two aspects of their style of play, a notable concentration on trying to work openings for goals and piecing together passing movements from defence.

The former was still in evidence last night, Cork hit the net twice and could have struck another five, some last-ditch Limerick defensive blocks and goalkeeping interventions denied them.

But the later was a problematic issue. Limerick hunted Cork down, pressing ferociously in their forward line. They swallowed up Cork defenders in possession, turned over 10 Cork puckouts in the first half and a steady flow of points ensued. It all adds up to a key question for Cork – do they stick or twist with that approach going forward?

“You could see that in the first half, I thought our lads were a small bit shell-shocked in some ways,” said Cork manager Kieran Kingston.

“We said we’d play with the wind to see if it could ease us into the game a little bit, but it didn’t work out that way.

“They put huge pressure on our puckout in the first half and got a lot of turnovers and a lot of success from it.

“We contributed as well ourselves, with some unforced errors.”

4. Signs of Limerick brilliance

If Cork were left confused after the game as to what direction they were going in, Limerick had the greater clarity. If they endured unrewarding trips to Pearse Stadium and Walsh Park, this was more what they were accustomed to during their all-conquering 2020 season.

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From the throw-in, Limerick hit full speed. The sharpness of their hurling and their focus saw them surge ahead on the scoreboard. By the interval the game was done as they had struck 20 points, by full-time that number had grown to 33 and with 20 wides, the realisation was there that this could have been a beating of a larger scale.

“Tonight (our) work rate was up,” remarked Kiely.

“Our use of the ball was much better. Our energy levels was much better, that’s the bottom line.

“The boys were very honest in their endeavour and very focused on getting the ball. They showed good patience in their tackling but most of all it wasn’t just one guy making the tackle. They worked really hard as a unit.”

5. Teamsheet debates for the managers

A key area of interest will be what relation last night’s team selections will have to the sides that take to the field in Semple Stadium in four weeks. As John Kiely spoke afterwards in the Gaelic Grounds, it was striking to observe the stars that were walking past behind them, some of them who had been observers on the night. Kyle Hayes, David Dempsey, Seamus Flanagan, Gearoid Hegarty, Dan Morrissey, Mike Casey and Nickie Quaid had all been spaced out in one section of the Mackey Stand.

Cork began the match without Luke Meade and Patrick Horgan, while Bill Cooper and Colm Spillane are their chief injury concerns before the game. Throw in Darragh Fitzgibbon, Sean O’Donoghue, Seamus Harnedy, Eoin and Alan Cadogan to the mix, from those who missed out on last night’s action.

Plenty to ponder for Kiely and Kingston as to who will force their way into their starting line-ups.

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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