LEAVING the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night, I felt an immense sense of relief that Cork were still in the championship.
There were plenty of other visiting supporters in a similar state and I imagine that was the reaction amongst the Cork management and players in the dressing room as well.
It should have never ended up being so nervy and close in the end. With a few minutes to go in normal time, I thought Cork should have been out of sight. They’d controlled the match for a good 30 minutes of the second half, whereas Limerick were very flat in comparison. When you’re holding a five-point lead on the closing straight, you shouldn’t let your opponents back into it. Indeed Cork’s lead should have been greater than five and they missed quite a few easy frees from the left side. That’s a concern going forward.
Limerick had real momentum behind them entering extra-time. They overcame the sluggish nature of that second-half display and located a second wind from somewhere. There was a delicate period in the first half of extra-time where the first score was gong to be vital and Limerick had their chances to edge ahead. Cork could have been in trouble had they done so but the two points from Donncha O’Connor were crucial.
Cork’s overall play was more free-flowing towards the end whereas in contrast Limerick were hugely reliant on the fist pass. They played negatively in their own half and appeared to be afraid to attack the game. I felt Conor Counihan used his bench wisely at this time, bringing Paul Kerrigan and Patrick Kelly back into the game, where they were very effective.
The theme of substitutes impressing was first established by Nicholas Murphy in the second half. He made a big difference at midfield where, in fairness, Derek Kavanagh was superb for Cork from the start. The Nemo player looked a lot sharper than I have seen him in a long time and scored a superb point in the first half. The dominance from Limerick’s midfield that we have seen to date this season was not evident on Saturday, which had a major influence on the outcome. You’d have to be very satisfied with the whole Cork defence as well. Ray Carey and Jamie Sullivan are fast becoming the unsung heroes of the side.
The good news didn’t extend all over the pitch. The attack found it very difficult to get inside their backs but Limerick had some excellent defensive performances from the likes of Johnny McCarthy and Stephen Lavin. I realise it’s becoming a bugbear of mine at this stage but once again there were no green flags raised by Cork.
They went close when Brian Scanlon produced a brilliant save in the Limerick goal to stop Colm O’Neill. But they’re heading to the quarter-finals having managed only one goal in three qualifier games. That’s not a good return considering the opposition they’ve faced. It’s not as if they’ve been creating plenty chances either and you saw with Dublin on Saturday, the benefits of being clinical in creating and converting goal chances.
It was a typical hard-fought match that we’ve become accustomed to from Cork and Limerick over the last few years. But that did not justify the amount of yellow cards handed out by Padraig Hughes. Gaelic football is played out by highly-charged individuals and there’s going to be physical exchanges.
But Saturday was a clean game and you had a situation where the referee turned a blind eye to what looked a penalty to John Galvin in the first half, and instead was busy handing out cheap yellow cards.
There’ll be inevitable speculation now over the future intentions of the Limerick management. It’ll be a decision for Mickey Ned O’Sullivan to make and I don’t think he owes the county anything. Without doubt he has bettered Limerick as a football force since he has taken over. Either way I don’t expect it to be the end of Mickey Ned’s inter-county managerial career and I reckon he would be snapped up elsewhere if he leaves them.
As for Cork, they’ve probably got what’s viewed as the best draw in next weekend’s quarter-finals.
Roscommon are a bit of an unknown though, after they progressed further than anyone would have expected at the start of the year. They’ve nothing to lose now after winning Connacht and I think after such a tough 90 minutes of football on Saturday, the main thing was for Cork to avoid Tyrone. They haven’t found the heights they were hitting at this stage last year but perhaps they peaked too early then. You look at Kerry struggling through the qualifiers last year and it’s tempting to suggest Cork are going down a similar path.
But in order to prove that, the key objective must be to give a big display in Croke Park next weekend.
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