I DON’T have the fondest memories of the Gaelic Grounds from my playing days.
We lost a bad National League semi-final there in the mid 80s and suffered a killer defeat in the pouring rain in 1982, when Roscommon won an All-Ireland U21 semi-final with a goal from the last kick of the game.
It’s always struck me as being primarily a hurling pitch, and apart from two years ago when Cork caught Limerick at the end, I don’t think it’s a place where we’ve enjoyed much luck as a county in football.
That’s one reason why I’m worried heading up the N20 for tonight’s All-Ireland qualifier.
It’s definitely a massive advantage to Limerick to be at home and worth a few scores to Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s team.
They should have a big crowd there roaring them on and Cork saw last week in Wexford Park how such support can create a hostile atmosphere.
Irrespective of the stadium and the fans, the ability of the Limerick starting 15 is enough to concern Conor Counihan. There weren’t many Cork people who hung around in Killarney three weeks ago after the minor final was done and dusted, but I stayed on for the showpiece senior event.
Limerick began in a blaze of glory, full of intensity and aggression, but playing only two forwards inside the 45-yard line during the first half cost them from going further ahead.
When Kerry went seven points up in the second half, I gathered up the kids, bought a few bags of chips and headed for the exit. When I heard all the roars behind me, I ran back to my seat and saw Limerick only a point down.
If they had managed to get ahead, I think they’d have held their composure to ensure Seanie Buckley lifted the cup from the podium.
Instead they were left with that familiar disappointment. But last year in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was more shattering as they collapsed in the final quarter, whereas this time they gave it everything.
The Munster final demonstrated what they have to offer. John Galvin is the in-form midfielder in the country and Cork have to stop him from the outset. Ger Collins gave Tom O’Sullivan an awful time that day and if Ian Ryan regains the exciting form he’s displayed over the past two seasons, it will be a serious boost for Limerick.
Cork have done everything asked of them in the past fortnight of qualifier action. Cavan were atrocious a fortnight ago, and while Wexford was more of a battle last week, Cork coped admirably.
Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan have been a breath of fresh air to the team this year, John Miskella is fit and sharp after his injury problems, and they have real flexibility in defence by altering Graham Canty and Michael Shields between full and half back.
When you analyse the two qualifier games they’ve played, the return of just one goal is a concern. It’s not even that they are creating the chances for goals and if Cork are going to win the big games for the rest of the summer they need to start raising green flags.
In my view, the key player to pull the strings is Patrick Kelly. I had him in the UCC Sigerson Cup teams and it was then I first noticed his brilliant vision and passing. But he seems to be playing very deep this year and Cork need him further up the pitch.
After the last two qualifier games, this is the sort of battle that Cork need to assess where they stand. There’s no exit strategy for either team this time and the performance tonight is largely irrelevant, it’s all about getting your name into that draw tomorrow night.
Cork will be on their guard after what’s happened in recent years and with that proper frame of mind, I think they’ll just edge it.
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