If the championship is Broadway and the NHL off-Broadway, how would you describe last Saturday night?
The Co-Op Superstores Munster SHL is generally perceived as a series of auditions, but the second half of the final in the Gaelic Grounds was more an extended curtain call for winners Limerick.
The 2018 All-Ireland champions had 15 points to spare at the end, having dominated Cork totally in that second half. Limerick manager John Kiely welcomed the display. Eventually.
“We weren’t altogether satisfied with the first-half performance, the energy levels weren’t where we wanted them to be.
“The execution of what we were trying to do wasn’t there either. We struggled to get the quality ball we wanted into the inside forward line. We addressed a few issues at half time, just asked the players for more energy in the second half and they gave it.
Cork’s second-half decline was “difficult to judge”, said Rebel boss Kieran Kingston: ”Obviously Limerick were able to call on guys and they finished very strongly, bringing in serious players and we weren’t able to do that.
“They took the game away from us, our intensity fell away with ten or 15 minutes to go. We haven’t watched it or discussed it yet but if that’s because we felt the game was going from us, that’s not really good enough.”
The 5,295 in attendance saw Cork hit five points in the first five minutes, with Conor Lehane impressing, but David Dempsey helped Limerick to stay in touch before Aaron Gillane struck for goal from close range: 1-3 to 0-5 on 11 minutes.
Newcomer Sean Twomey’s second and Aidan Walsh’s first point nudged Cork one ahead by the end of the first quarter, 0-8 to 1-4, but David Reidy’s accuracy from frees levelled the game before Barry Nash and Diarmaid Byrnes (free) put Limerick ahead, 1-8 to 0-9.
The game was nip and tuck from there to the break, when it was 1-14 to 0-14— Chris O’Leary’s late free the last puck.
Cork restarted with a Lehane free but Limerick simply took over. Their half-backs shut Cork down and further up the field they dominated, spreading the ball at will. At one stage Limerick hit seven points in a row, later they hit six on the spin, and the game was over as a contest long before the final whistle. With nine different scorers, Limerick were favoured by all the metrics.
Both managers’ thoughts were already turning to the Allianz league at the final whistle.
“I just think there is a good competitive edge to what we are doing in the squad at the moment,” said Kiely.
“Every single player involved has had some game time at this stage and you know coming back to training next Tuesday night it will be interesting to see where fellows’ mindsets are at.
“If fellows take their eye off the ball they’re going to lose out. I don’t see that happening because the attitude is bang on and on point, we just have to keeping working hard.
“There is a long road ahead. It is a long season. We will just take in one game at a time during the course of the league and hopefully we will have some good positive performances.”
For his part, Kingston was taking the positives from the Munster League while pondering the impact of the Fitzgibbon Cup on his NHL plans: “We didn’t have the ability to do that (introduce more senior players) but that’s the purpose of this competition – to give game-time to the senior players, some of whom haven’t hurled since July, and some of the younger lads, to give them hurling at this level and it has worked well from that point of view.
“We’ve 21 players away with the Fitzgibbon so we’ll have to do without them for a while.”
The Limerick management could hardly have had a better evening. After an, ah, eventful off-season, Kiely and his colleagues would have been in the market for a ruthless display which gave the large home support plenty to cheer.
In addition, David Reidy’s accuracy and Barry Nash’s industry were just two specific highlights that may broaden their selection options later in the year.
The road south through Charleville no doubt left Kingston and his management team with a good deal to ponder, though the absence of almost two dozen panellists on colleges duty no doubt coloured their views.
The difference between impressing at U20 level and surviving against seasoned All-Ireland champions is no longer a theoretical one for the next generation of Cork hurlers; some of them learned at first hand why it’s called senior hurling.
Both managers will be aware that the game also exposed a couple of fundamental challenges. On another evening Aaron Gillane could have been dismissed on a straight red for a first-half incident in which he struck out with his hurley at Cork’s Chris O’Leary, for instance: Kiely and the Limerick management will be aware that defenders will be keen to use the league to test the Patrickswell man’s discipline.
In the red and white corner Kingson and his selectors will be worried about Cork’s inability to get to grips with the Limerick half-back platform, even allowing for the fact that the visitors were light on options: it’s a part of the field that has anguished more Rebel fans in recent years than tailbacks at the Jack Lynch Tunnel.
Auditions. Curtain calls. The show begins all over again in a fortnight.
Scorers for Limerick: D. Reidy (0-12, 8 frees); G. Mulcahy (0-5); A. Gillane (1-1); D. Dempsey (0-4); D. Byrnes (1 frees), B. Nash, T. Morrissey, D. O’Donovan (0-2 each); C. Lynch, G. Hegarty (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: C. Lehane (0-6, 3 frees); S. Harnedy, S. Twomey, C. O’Leary (frees)(0-3 each); A. Walsh (0-2 ); B. Turnbull, J. O’Connor, P. Horgan (free)(0-1 each).
LIMERICK: B. Hennessy, T. Condon, R. English, A. Costello, D. Byrnes, D. Morrissey, B. Nash, R. Hanley, ,C. Lynch, D. O’Donovan, T. Morrissey, D. Dempsey G. Mulcahy, D. Reidy, A. Breen.
Subs: S Finn for Costello, G. Hegarty for T. Morrissey (both 45); M. Quinlan for Gillane (55); B. O’Grady for Condon (55); J. Boylan for English (65).
CORK: P Collins, C. Spillane, E. Cadogan, S. O’Donoghue, C. O’Leary, B. Cooper, D. Cahalane, R. Walsh, A. Walsh, C. Lehane, L. Meade, S. Twomey, J. O’Connor, S. Harnedy, B. Turnbull.
Subs: P. Horgan for O’Connor, S. O’Regan for R. Walsh (HT); R. Downey for Meade (52); T. Connell for Twomey (70); J. Keating for Spillane (72).
Referee: K. Jordan (Tipperary).