Limerick fight back to hold U21 crown

Limerick 1-15

They showed admirable character in coming back to secure a deserved victory after losing an eight-point interval lead and falling behind briefly at the three-quarters stage.

With a minute of normal time remaining, Limerick enjoyed a three-point lead after Mark Keane hit two particularly vital scores. But with injury time lasting over four minutes, Cork promised a recovery with a 60th-minute free from substitute James Egan and another from him three minutes later. Ultimately, however, they were denied victory through their failure from frees at various stages and, vitally, by the tenacity of the Limerick backs in the closing stages.

Lining with 13 of last year's successful team, Limerick hurled confidently from the start. However, while they were backed by a reasonably strong wind, they found themselves under pressure because of Cork's strong play in defence. Michael Fitzgerald started at full-back and senior player John Gardiner (picked at centre-back but operating at right-half) showed the value of his experience. Additionally, goalkeeper Martin Coleman was getting good distance into his puck-outs.

After 13 minutes scores were level for the second time at 0-3 each and it didn't represent a satisfactory return for the home side. Andrew O'Shaughnessy twice promised goals, once when Coleman didn't hold a ball which came in high from the wing and then when O'Shaughnessy pointed when he had the opportunity to put the ball in the net.

In another five minutes the trend of the game had been changed significantly, with Limerick tightening up at half-back and limiting the flow of ball to the inside Cork players. And when they began to assert themselves more at midfield - mainly through the strong play of Eoin Foley - they were much more threatening in attack.

O'Shaughnessy, who made a brief appearance for the seniors in the qualifier game against Cork a fortnight ago, was prominent in the right corner, Moran (switched from full-forward) was more involved and Conor Fitzgerald looked dangerous at the edge of the square. More significantly, Mark Keane was quite accurate in his free-taking in close and it contrasted with some poor misses by Kieran Murphy from frees at the other end. Likewise, John Gardiner found difficulty striking into the wind.

Limerick had the better of the play in the last ten minutes of the half, and after having opened up a gap of four points they had the boost of a well-taken goal. It came in the 23rd minute and, appropriately in view of the threat he was posing, the scorer was O'Shaughnessy. Now, they were controlling the game overall, defending more impressively and confining Cork scoring efforts to the absolute minimum. This was indicated by the fact that after gaining three scores by the 13th minute, they managed just two more before the break. And one of them came from John Quinlan, who took over the free-taking duties in close from Gardiner.

With Keane and O'Shaughnessy contributing 1-5 between them, the champions turned over leading by 1-10 to 0-5.

Within ten minutes of the resumption, the game had changed dramatically following a goal from Setanta Ó hAilpin in the 35th minute. Notably, the opening was created by Tomas O'Leary, one of two forwards introduced for the second half. For a while it seemed that it might be disallowed for a square infringement, but after consultation with his linesman the referee allowed it.

Now penetrating much more frequently, Cork recovered to be level by the 42nd minute.

However, Limerick regained their composure and again asserted themselves. More importantly, they made the most of what chances they created, with a Keane free cancelling out Eamonn Collins' lead score for Cork and then putting over a great score from play. Conversely, Cork missed a few chances which proved very costly.

The game was in injury time when a group of players got involved in a melee, but no action was taken by the referee, who didn't see it break out. It resulted in the play being extended by just over four minutes. Crucially, Limerick won a vital free which denied Cork the chance of going upfield and challenging for an equaliser.

Scorers: Limerick M. Keane 0-8 (0-7 frees); A. O'Shaughnessy 1-1; E. Foley and C. Fitzgerald 0-2 each; N. Moran and K. Tobin 0-1 each.

Cork S. O hAilpin 1-1; N. McCarthy 0-3; J. Quinlan 0-3 (0-2 frees); J. Egan 0-2; K. Murphy (Erins Own, free), G. Callinan, T. O'Leary, E. Collins and R. O'Doherty 0-1 each.

LIMERICK: T. Houlihan; D. Reale, B. Carroll, E. Mulcahy; P. O'Dwyer, P. Lawlor, M. O'Brien; M. O'Donnell, E. Foley; C. Fitzgerald, J. O'Brien, K. Tobin; A. O'Shaughnessy, N. Moran, M. Keane. Subs: J. O'Connor for J. O'Brien and P. Tobin for K. Tobin (43rd minute).

CORK: M. Coleman; C. O'Connor, M. Fitzgerald, B. Murphy; J. Gardiner, R. Curran, T. Kenny; G. Callinan, R. O'Dwyer; K. Murphy (Erins Own), P. Tierney, J. Quinlan; S. O hAilpin, E. Collins, N. McCarthy. Subs: J. Flavin for O'Connor (28th minute); K. Murphy (Sarsfields) for K. Murphy and T. O'Leary for Tierney (second half); R. O'Doherty for Callinan (50th); J. Egan for Quinlan (54th).

Referee: S. McMahon (Clare).

*Attendance: 7,642.

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