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Cork's semi-final record, Limerick on Croke Park stage and inside danger men

5 talking points ahead of today’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Cork and Limerick.

Cork and Limerick players battling for possession during the teams clash in June.
Cork and Limerick players battling for possession during the teams clash in June.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. Cork’s semi-final record

Cork’s 13-year barren spell since their last All-Ireland hurling title is a glaring statistic. But the problem has been not so much winning the Liam MacCarthy Cup, as it has been putting themselves in a position to win it. Semi-finals have largely been the graveyard for Cork’s hopes, with the exception of that 2013 victory over Dublin.

Their attacking talisman Patrick Horgan has been present for tough afternoons at the last four stage with defeats occurring in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2017. Given the evolving nature of this Cork team, some of those historical semi-final defeats are not of as much relevance.

But the 2014 loss to Tipperary is pertinent for several members of this team and today’s starting side – Sean O’Donoghue, Eoin Cadogan and Daniel Kearney the additions – is broadly similar to that which fell to Waterford last August. They have proven themselves in Munster, now it’s about surmounting that All-Ireland semi-final hurdle.

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2. Limerick’s Croke Park experience

Four years ago on a day when Croke Park was engulfed by a monsoon, Limerick went all the way with Kilkenny in an epic contest. They were two points adrift at the final whistle and it’s taken time for them to journey back to this stage. They return with a vastly different playing deck at their disposal.

Nickie Quaid, Declan Hannon and Graeme Mulcahy are the only survivors from TJ Ryan’s side in that 2014 encounter, Hannon shifting from the heart of the attack to the core of the defence. It’s a team infused with youth since then and while they have All-Ireland underage medals to their name, a senior semi-final is a different examination. After making such strides in 2018, how Limerick fare in a different environment on a pressurised day in Croke Park, will be intriguing.

3. The Fitzgibbon-Lynch midfield duel

When Cork and Limerick played out a draw in a gripping showdown in early June, the quality of the midfield play was one of the shining facets. Cian Lynch showed his capacity to gather possession in rucks, spray the ball intelligently into his attack and chip in with 0-3 from play. Darragh Fitzgibbon’s athleticism and close control brought him to the fore last summer, he has added a scoring touch to his game now, as evidenced by the 0-4 haul that night.

The impact made by the duo today will be crucial. They are the form midfielders in the championship, young players who are thriving on the senior stage. Lynch was an All-Ireland U21 winner last September, Fitzgibbon is still on course to replicate that with Cork next month. But a senior final appearance is prize both will chase and they can make a major contribution to shaping the outcome of this game.

4. Inside danger men need watching

The relentless scoretaking was striking in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh round-robin clash between this pair. Given Limerick shot 0-27 last time out and Cork hit 2-24 in their most recent tie – both in Semple Stadium – there is little sign of either side struggling in the scoring department.

That Limerick game and the first-half of their Munster final indicate that Cork must address their difficulties in the full-back line. Limerick will hope Seamus Flanagan can star again with Aaron Gillane surely eager to atone for his red card in that match as well.

But Cork have their own threats close to goal that Limerick need to police. They managed to restrict Seamus Harnedy in their last meeting, the only team to hold the Cork captain scoreless this summer. Yet Harnedy is in a rich vein of form and is combining excellently with Patrick Horgan.

5. Options off the bench in finale

It’s hard to think of a semi-final clash that looks as evenly balanced before throw-in as this one. A second day out is a viable outcome but ultimately it’s likely to be fine margins if the teams are separated. The personnel in reserve could be central to this and Limerick were certainly grateful of that against Kilkenny when Peter Casey and Shane Dowling made their presences felt. Barry Nash is another attacker of talent while Kevin Downes is a notable inclusion, a forward of experience pitched into their squad for the first time this year.

For Cork their substitutes list smacks of youth with five starting in the recent Munster U21 final victory over Tipperary. In a potentially tight contest, can John Meyler utilise something extra to get them over the line? He may need an experienced head like Conor O’Sullivan or Mark Ellis to shore up the defence, but it is a scoring input from Robbie O’Flynn or Michael Cahalane that may be needed most.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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