THE value of Graham Canty to Cork football can never be underestimated.
The Bantry man returned to the team for yesterday’s Munster championship opener against Limerick for his first game since last year’s provincial final and it was as if he had never been away.
A colossus at full back, Canty was master of all he surveyed as Cork crushed Limerick with a powerful second-half display, but the victory came at a price as they lost goalkeeper Alan Quirke with a suspected dislocated shoulder which will keep him out of the semi-final against Tipperary in a fortnight’s time.
While Canty was undoubtedly the best defender Cork had, Noel O’Leary and Anthony Lynch ran him very close. O’Leary easily had his best game in the red jersey and capped a great performance with a goal just before half time, which drew the biggest cheer of the afternoon from the 6,500 attendance.
While all three were keeping their end up in defence, James Masters showed just how valuable an attacker he is to Cork, contributing 1-7 of his side’s total. Pierce O’Neill was superb on the 40, while Michael Cussen, making his championship debut, showed he will be a valuable acquisition once he settles into his full-forward position.
When these two sides met in the league six weeks ago, Cork survived by a couple of points and were expecting a far tougher game on this occasion, but apart from the opening minutes during which Limerick led 0-2 to 0-1, there was never a hint of an upset after James Masters slipped home a peach of a goal in the sixth minute.
While their final tally was comprehensive, Cork coach Billy Morgan will reflect on his side’s failure to score for 30 minutes after Masters’ goal.
The visitors were hugely disappointing. They couldn’t have asked for a better start when John Cooke pointed after just 20 seconds and threatened to make it difficult for the home side, playing the better football in those early minutes.
The sides were level twice in the first five minutes before Masters finished a great passing movement to the net and from there on there was only going to be one outcome.
The game might have turned out differently had John Cooke goaled in the 14th minute, but he was denied by a superb save by Cork netminder Alan Quirke. At the other end Nicholas Murphy was inches away from a Cork goal after Michael Cussen knocked the ball into his path.
With Canty showing no ill effects from his knee operation, Cork took control around midfield where team captain Derek Kavanagh won a lot of aerial possession, but the home attack failed to convert their dominance into scores and went 30 minutes without adding to the tally. Given Cussen was on the team for his aerial prowess, it was surprising his outfield colleagues didn’t send the high ball into him as he clearly had the beating of his man in the air.
However, Cork squandered chance after chance and it took wing back O’Leary to finally show his forward colleagues the way, setting off on a great run which took him deep into the Limerick defence.
His shot for goal was blocked by the ‘keeper but the ball came back to O’Leary who punched it to the net; Cork were a bit flattered by their 2-4 to 0-5 half-time lead.
Clearly working to instructions, Cork used the long ball to great advantage in the second half and with the towering figure of Cussen highly effective at full forward, the scores began to flow.
Cussen was denied a goal by the outstretched leg of Limerick full back John McCarthy after the Cork full forward had fetched superbly from the air, but James Masters pointed the resultant 45.
By the end of the third quarter the home side had forged 2-9 to 0-7 in front, Limerick being confined to just two points from frees by Michael Reidy and unable to make any impression on the home defence in which Canty, O’Leary and Anthony Lynch were superb. The game petered out to its inevitable conclusion, with Limerick failing to score for the last 15 minutes.
Scorers for Cork: J. Masters 1-7 (0- 4 frees); N. O’Leary 1-0; K. O’Sullivan 0-3 (0-1 free); G. Spillane, F. Goold, N. Murphy, P. O’Neill 0-1 each.
Scorers for Limerick: M. Reidy 0-4 (frees); J. Cooke 0-2; P. Ranahan 0-1.
CORK: A. Quirke; M. Shields, G. Canty, K. O’Connor; N. O’Leary, G. Spillane, A. Lynch; D. Kavanagh, N. Murphy; C. McCarthy, P. O’Neill, K. McMahon; J. Masters, M. Cussen, D. O’Connor.
Subs: K. O’Sullivan for McMahon; F. Goold for McCarthy; D. Hurley for Murphy; D. Goulding for Masters; P. O’Shea for Quirke.
LIMERICK: S. Kiely; D. Carroll, J. McCarthy, S. Gallagher; P. Ahern, P. Browne, P. Ranahan; T. Carroll, J. Galvin; S. Lavin, J. Ryan, T. Cahill; J. Cooke, S. Buckley, M. Reidy.
Subs: D. Horan for Cahill; A. Lane for Gallagher; M. Crowley for Cooke; C. Crowley for Carroll.
Referee: P. Fox (Westmeath).