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Pre-season done, what can Cork and Limerick take from it ahead of hurling league?

The counties clashed on Saturday night in the Gaelic Grounds.

Cork's Sean Twomey and Limerick's Barry Nash
Cork's Sean Twomey and Limerick's Barry Nash
Image: INPHO

WHEN THE GAELIC Grounds hosted Limerick and Cork last May, there were some conclusions drawn from the action.

It was viewed as a reminder that the All-Ireland title defence would be tricky for Limerick. The defeat transpired to be a blip for them in the province as they rocketed to a Munster accolade in late June before paying the price for a sluggish start against Kilkenny.

It was viewed as a signal that Cork had recovered from their opening stumble against Tipperary. The success transpired to be their 2019 championship high point as their form fell away during the summer.

Saturday brought the two teams back to the Ennis Road venue to square off in as they are starting to get into a rhythm for the 2020 campaign. Limerick ran out convincing winners, the 1-32 to 0-20 scoreline a fair reflection of the manner in which they pushed Cork aside in the second half.

Their past showdown teaches us about making definitive judgements and yet it’s worth exploring as to what, if anything, can be stated as to how both are shaping up with the league swinging soon into view?

kieran-kingston-and-john-kiely Cork boss Kieran Kingston and Limerick manager John Kiely Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Limerick

Three games, three victories and 4-81 posted on the board. It’s been a good start to the year for John Kiely, he’s utilised 21 different players in starting positions and another seven have seen game time off the bench.

The mainstays in the Limerick ranks will remain in place, the claims of the fringe players are of most interest. David Reidy didn’t start against Kilkenny in the 2019 championship exit, David Dempsey didn’t come on in that game. Their attacking showings were eye-catching on Saturday night.

Dempsey floated over 0-5 from wing-forward, he’s endured  a few long runs on the club scene with Na Piarsaigh, an unusually early conclusion for them last October may leave him refreshed. Reidy has snapped over 1-23 in the space of six days against Banner and Rebel rearguards, with eighteen of those white flags raised from dead balls.

It was an operator further back that was bestowed with the man-of-the-match award, the name of Barry Nash booming out over the PA towards the final whistle. Previously recognised as an attacker, his deployment at wing-back is now viewed as more realistic option than novel experiment.

“Don’t think it is an experiment at all now,” remarked Kiely afterwards.

“We made this decision early last year that he was going to go back into the half-back line and contend there. We needed greater reserves back there and Barry has a lot of attributes. He is very fast and has good hands and I think he has done a fantastic job going back there and working hard on his game.

“He is very focussed and working really, really hard and that’s all I can ask for.”

Third-level commitments and injuries robbed Kiely of established figures, hence the introduction of newcomers Mark Quinlan, Brian O’Grady and Jerome Boylan in the finale on Saturday night.

brian-turnbull-and-robbie-hanley Cork's Brian Turnbull and Limerick's Robbie Hanley Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Cork

A trio of outings, a pair of wins and a single loss. It’s early days in the second Cork coming of Kieran Kingston, at the break on Saturday night he had cause for satisfaction. Victories over Kerry and Waterford had preceded a fine first-half showing, they contributed handsomely to the 1-14 to 0-14 scoreline that was the outcome of an entertaining opening period.

The second-half raised an alarm with the volume of points they shipped, Limerick raining shots relentlessly over the crossbar Patrick Collins guarded. After conceding 0-11 and 1-13 in their previous two games, 0-18 in the second half alone and an overall tally of 1-32 provided evidence that Cork’s defending, around the pitch rather than solely in the rearguard, remains a work in progress.

A couple of bright spots were detected in the form of Sean Twomey and Brian Turnbull. They had a feeling of desolation at this stadium last August, emphatically beaten at U20 level by Tipperary with silverware to be seized, yet Twomey snapped over three first-half points for Cork here and Turnbull created four in a busy display. Defender Chris O’Leary is another who has been handed a jersey and could now get a sustained run at half-back.

tom-morrissey-and-chris-oleary Limerick's Tom Morrissey and Cork's Chris O'Leary Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Cork started 25 players in their three different games to date and sprung a further 10 from the bench. Coach Ger Cunningham pointed out in early December that Fitzgibbon Cup action, All-Ireland club runs and the local U21 games programme – which drew to a halt just before Christmas – would make it challenging for them in terms of player availability.

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It remains a live issue as they gear up for the outset of the league.

“It depends on how the Fitzgibbon goes,” reasoned Kingston after Saturday’s clash.

“Any team that gets to the final will have six games in the next four weeks, if that’s UCC we’ve 14 with them so that’ll give us a challenge alright!

“It’s great that the college lads can go and play competitive hurling in the Fitzgibbon Cup, which they are over the next number of weeks, and it’s great for us to have three games in this.

“If you didn’t have the run of games, you wouldn’t be able to give the lads the exposure. There’s a massive gap between club hurling and then playing U20 and playing against the 2018 All-Ireland champions and last year’s league winners.

“It’s early days, this is only the third game we’ve had and it’s only the 11th of January. Some teams are only coming back from holidays now so, whether we won tonight or we lost, we weren’t going to get carried away.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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