Cork and Limerick set for battle royal

WHICH county needs victory more in tonight’s Bord Gáis Energy Munster U21HC final?

Cork, whose senior side limped out of the senior championship last month and have been starved of underage success over the past decade? Or Limerick, who after the positives vibes emanating from year one in the Donal O’Grady era could do with provincial underage silverware to maintain that momentum? For the victors tonight there will be a warm glow about their future prospects as a hurling county. For the losers there will be more doubts and uncertainty. Plenty to play for then.

The mood in both camps should be good. Cork displayed a ruthlessness in plundering four goals when dismantling Tipperary in their semi-final, a trait that has not always been apparent in the county’s hurling teams of late. Running up a total of 4-19 hinted at the potential that can be tapped into in their forward line. Luke O’Farrell’s capabilities at U21 level were known previously while the emergence of last year’s minors Conor Lehane and Jamie Coughlan was a real plus. The aerial prowess of Aidan Walsh at half-forward is a key issue, an area Cork will try to exploit from Darren McCarthy’s puckouts and an area Limerick need to focus on disrupting.

If Limerick were in a positive frame of mind after defeating Clare, then the return of Graeme Mulcahy to their attack will provide further optimism. He embellishes a forward unit that already bristles with menace in Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling and Michael Ryan. At the edge of the square Kevin Downes is an obvious focal point and Cork manager Ger Fitzgerald has reacted by drafting in Damien Cahalane who has the necessary physique and resilience. Cahalane did well when introduced against Tipperary and that will be an intriguing individual tussle.

James O’Brien continues to be marked absent for Limerick but Pat Begley, younger brother of former senior Brian, and Cian Hayes are good players who will man the central defensive positions while Conor Allis and Sean O’Brien dovetail well at midfield. They helped ensure a steady stream of possession for the Limerick attack in the semi-final but Clare’s defensive deficiencies must be taken into account. Cork’s rearguard had their own anxious moments against Tipperary. They conceded 13 points that night from frees, albeit there were some questionable decisions that went against them, and clearly there needs to be greater discipline here.

However Christopher Joyce was in terrific form in that game, while James Nagle and William Egan are capable of placing the shackles on Dowling and Hannon. If that transpires then Cork have the forwards to punch holes in the Limerick rearguard.

They may be facing an away trip yet that did not affect them in Thurles three weeks ago. Fitzgerald spoke after that game about the requirement to be consistent and not let that night be an isolated display of brilliance. That motivation and their greater strength should set up an All-Ireland semi-final meeting against Galway on August 20th.

CORK U21H: D McCarthy; C Joyce, D Cahalane, S Corry; J Nagle, W Egan, M Ellis; S O’Farrell, D Roche; D Brosnan, C Lehane, A Walsh; L O’Farrell, M O’Sullivan, J Coughlan.

LIMERICK U21H: A Murphy; A Dempsey, P Begley, S O’Reilly; C McNamara, C Hayes, T O’Callaghan; C Allis, S O’Brien; N Kennedy, D Hannon, S Dowling; M Ryan, K Downes, G Mulcahy.

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