Limerick 4-20 Cork 1-27 (after extra-time)
Limerick showed immense durability and a canny knack of scoring timely goals as they secured their first Bord Gáis Energy Munster Under-21 Hurling Championship title since 2002.
Leo O’Connor’s determined side needed 80 minutes to put away this talent-laden Cork outfit, scoring 1-2 in the second period of extra-time.
The Gaelic Grounds erupted at the finish to proclaim the scorer of that crucial goal, Declan Hannon, and his team-mates.
Just three days after the Cork footballers’ All-Ireland exit, dual player Aidan Walsh excelled for the Rebels Under-21 hurlers. He scored eight points from play, including a blockbuster which forced extra-time at 3-14 to 1-20.
Walsh was also pivotal to Cork’s interval advantage of 0-12 to 1-7. They stretched their lead to four points at one stage, but quick-fire goals from Sean O’Brien and Graeme Mulcahy saw the Shannonsiders roar back.
It was a breathless game full of skilful, fluid hurling and intriguing individual battles, and both teams deserve great credit for maintaining the high standard through to the final second.
Limerick got off to a stunning start. Pressure on Cork from the throw-in led to Seamus Corry being hooked and Mulcahy darted away with the loose ball to round goalkeeper Darren McCarthy and finish smartly to the empty net.
Luke O’Farrell, one of the senior panellists on show for Cork, replied with a fourth minute point, before Conor Allis lobbed over a lovely effort off his left.
A brace of frees from Jamie Coughlan closed the gap to 1-1 to 0-3, and with Cork able to deliver quick ball into their forwards, Michael O’Sullivan levelled the sides in the tenth minute.
The action moved swiftly from either end of the pitch, with McCarthy standing up well to block a batted shot from Michael Ryan. Walsh then delighted the Cork faithful with a superb catch and point.
A well-struck free from Shane Dowling ended Limerick’s scoreless spell, but Cork continued to threaten in open play and Conor Lehane hit back-to-back scores.
The Rebels failed to convert their first goal-scoring opportunity, the move ending with Dean Brosnan pointing from close range. Yet Dowling cancelled that out with his second free.
Walsh split the posts for a 0-9 to 1-3 scoreline, only for Mulcahy to respond at the other end following a terrific instinctive hand-pass from the impressive Dowling.
The same two players combined in the next attack, Mulcahy winning a free which Dowling pointed. Limerick’s free-taker tagged on another to square things up at 1-6 to 0-9.
Walsh grabbed his third point, another created by himself, before his captain William Egan managed to disrupt Mulcahy just as he tried to pull the trigger for Limerick’s second goal.
Limerick stopper Aaron Murphy did brilliantly to get down low and save a goal-bound effort from O’Farrell. But that man Walsh showed his accuracy again when cancelling out Dowling’s fifth free of the night.
The Shannonsiders’ wides tally increased to six in the dying embers of the half. Their misses were compounded by Walsh’s fifth point in injury-time, with substitute James O’Brien now trying to keep him quiet.
Walsh continued to stamp his mark on the game, clipping over the opening point of the second period to extend Cork’s lead to 0-13 to 1-7.
O’Farrell again went in search of a goal after taking a high catch, but Murphy was equal to his shot again and deflecting it out for a ‘65’ which Egan missed.
Walsh’s golden touch did not desert him even from long range. He raised his seventh white flag after a quick turnover of possession.
But Limerick suddenly upped the tempo, fashioning two goals in the space of three minutes.
Alan Dempsey played a long ball forward in the 37th minute, Sean O’Brien burst onto it and with a shortened grip, produced a crafty, flicked finish past the advancing McCarthy.
Dowling’s first point from play got Limerick back level and the ever predatory Mulcahy then swooped for his second goal, knocking the ball home one-handed as the Cork defence was exposed again.
It was all Limerick as Declan Hannon burst into life, firing over two points and Allis was also on target. In response, Cork substitute David Drake drilled over a sideline cut from the right.
Cork were right back in the hunt when Luke O’Farrell acrobatically gathered Michael O’Sullivan’s cross-field pass and drove a powerful shot high into the net, with 12 minutes remaining.
O’Farrell, with his marker Patrick Begley off for a blood injury, added a point to reduce the arrears to 3-11 to 1-16 and a Coughlan free made it all square with eight minutes to go.
It was Limerick’s turn to put on a spurt, lively substitute Mark Carmody landing two points and the increasingly influential Hannon also raising another white flag.
Coughlan sandwiched in a free between those scores and Michael O’Sullivan nicked a shot into the side-netting from point blank range. The tension was palpable amongst the 8,536-strong crowd as Limerick stubbornly held onto a 3-14 to 1-18 advantage.
Somehow, Cork summoned enough strength to fight back in injury-time and force extra-time. Coughlan converted his fifth free and Walsh registered the most memorable point of the night, which can be best described as a wonder score from centre-field.
The first period of extra-time saw Ger Fitzgerald’s Cork charges gain the upper hand, mostly through the pinpoint shooting of corner forward Coughlan who added four points to his tally.
Substitute Simon O’Brien and Conor Lehane, who had a short spell on the sideline, also found the target, helping their side take a 1-26 to 3-17 lead by the break.
Limerick kept in the hunt with scores from Allis (free), the excellent Carmody and Dowling (free), and another placed ball from Allis put two points between the sides early in the second period (1-26 to 3-18).
Their belief could not be questioned and a fleet-footed attack yielded that vital fourth goal. Mulcahy hurtled through the heart of the Cork defence and his well-timed hand-pass set up Hannon for a neat shot into the bottom far corner.
Skipper Kevin Downes belatedly added his name to the scoresheet to make it 4-19 to 1-26 to O’Connor’s youngsters, and full-back Begley bravely smothered a goal chance from O’Farrell.
The resulting ‘65’ was slung over by Coughlan for his 10th point. But Limerick were in defiant mood and Hannon nudged the winning margin o two points.
With goalkeeper Murphy alert to any late danger, Downes and his colleagues held on to claim the provincial silverware and advance to an All-Ireland semi-final against Galway on Sunday, August 20.
Scorers: Limerick: Graeme Mulcahy 2-1, Declan Hannon 1-4, Shane Dowling 0-7 (0-6f), Conor Allis 0-4 (0-2f), Sean O’Brien 1-0, Mark Carmody 0-3, Kevin Downes 0-1
Cork: Jamie Coughlan 0-10 (0-6f, 0-1 ‘65’), Aidan Walsh 0-8, Luke O’Farrell 1-2, Conor Lehane 0-3, Michael O’Sullivan, Dean Brosnan, David Drake (0-1sl), Simon O’Brien 0-1 each
LIMERICK: Aaron Murphy; Alan Dempsey, Patrick Begley, Steve O’Reilly; Cathal McNamara, Cian Hayes, Thomas O’Callaghan; Conor Allis, Sean O’Brien; Niall Kennedy, Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling; Michael Ryan, Kevin Downes (capt), Graeme Mulcahy.
Subs used: James O’Brien for McNamara (16 mins), Mark Carmody for Ryan (half-time), Barry O’Connell for Begley (48-50, blood sub), Aidrian Breen for O’Brien (56); Brian Cleary for O’Reilly (1, extra-time), Barry O’Connell for O’Callaghan (8, extra-time), Sean O’Brien for Breen (11, extra-time).
CORK: Darren McCarthy; Christopher Joyce, Damien Cahalane, Seamus Corry; James Nagle, William Egan (capt), Mark Ellis; Seamus O’Farrell, Daniel Roche; Dean Brosnan, Conor Lehane, Aidan Walsh; Luke O’Farrell, Michael O’Sullivan, Jamie Coughlan.
Subs used: Paul Honohan for Ellis (half-time), David Drake for Brosnan (39 mins), Brendan Withers for Corry (41), Simon O’Brien for S O’Farrell (45), Paul Haughney for Lehane (55); Conor Lehane for Haughney (7, extra-time), Dean Brosnan for M O’Sullivan (15, extra-time).
Referee: Pat Casey (Waterford)