A Declan Hannon goal in the 74th minute after a wonderful run by Graeme Mulcahy to create the opportunity was the critical strike in inserting daylight between these sides. Despite Cork’s best efforts to scramble level in a frantic finish, Limerick staved off their challenge to spark riotous scenes of celebration at the final whistle.
In a game that throbbed with excitement, this was the latest classic for an U21 hurling catalogue that is already stacked with thrillers. Normal time concluded in a blaze of drama when Aidan Walsh brought the sides level in the 62nd minute at 1-20 to 3-14 after he landed a monster effort. Any fears that Walsh would be suffering from the hangover of last Sunday’s disappointment with the Cork senior footballers were erased and he began like a man possessed. Limerick had no answer to his aerial prowess in the first half and his shooting was superb as well, landing five points from play. He finished up with 0-8 and it was rough justice for him to be on the losing team.
However Limerick’s ability to plunder goals on the night underpinned their victory. The four green flags they raised all came at opportune stages. Mulcahy’s shot to the net after only 19 seconds was an ideal tonic to settle the pre-game nerves of the Treaty men. Then after trailing 0-12 to 1-7 at the break, they shot 2-3 in a five-minute spell early in the second half. Mulcahy and Seanie O’Brien bagged the goals with splendidly skilful finishes while the influence of Declan Hannon became more pronounced as the game progressed.
It was not just a night for their offensive stars, however. Corner-back Alan Dempsey was terrific throughout, Pat Begley looks set to slip into the number three senior jersey in the near future while Conor Allis was an energetic force at midfield.
Defeat was a devastating blow for Cork as they appeared to have set themselves on course for victory in extra-time. The sublime play of Walsh and Conor Lehane had propelled them into an interval advantage, and after being rocked by Limerick’s powerful early second-half showing, they responded impressively. Full-back Damien Cahalane was magnificent, nullifying the challenge of danger man Kevin Downes, while James Nagle was to the fore at half-back.
The critical score that underlined Cork’s second-half revival was a 48th minute goal from Luke O’Farrell, when he showed great athleticism to make a superb catch and rifle a fierce shot to the net. That trimmed the gap to 3-11 to 1-15 and while Limerick went two points ahead near the finish, Jamie Coughlan cut the margin to one before he landed an incredible effort to tie the game.
The opening period of extra-time was all about Coughlan, who finished with 0-10 to his name. By the 70th minute he had helped shoot Cork into a 1-26 to 3-17 lead and success appeared imminent. But Limerick were resilient and they only conceded one point in the closing stages of extra-time, with Aaron Murphy making an important block from an O’Farrell goal effort before Hannon pounced for that fourth goal which spurred Limerick onto their first U21 crown since 2002.
Scorers for Limerick: G Mulcahy 2-1, S Dowling 0-7 (0-6f), D Hannon 1-4, C Allis 0-4 (0-1f), M Carmody 0-3, S O’Brien 1-0, K Downes 0-1.
Scorers for Cork: J Coughlan 0-10 (0-5f, 0-1 ‘65), A Walsh 0-8, L O’Farrell 1-2, C Lehane 0-3, D Brosnan, M O’Sullivan, D Drake (0-1 sideline), S O’Brien 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: A Murphy; A Dempsey, P Begley, S O’Reilly; C McNamara, C Hayes, T O’Callaghan; C Allis, S O’Brien; S Dowling, D Hannon, N Kennedy; M Ryan, K Downes, G Mulcahy.
Subs: J O’Brien for McNamara (15), M Carmody for Ryan (half-time), B O’Connell for Begley (blood) (48), Begley for O’Connell (50), A Breen for O’Brien (56), S Madden for Mulcahy (59), B Cleary for O’Reilly (60), Mulcahy for Madden (60), B O’Connell for O’Callaghan (68), S O’Brien for Breen (70).
CORK: D McCarthy; C Joyce, D Cahalane, S Corry; J Nagle, W Egan, M Ellis; S O’Farrell, D Roche; D Brosnan, M O’Sullivan, A Walsh; L O’Farrell, C Lehane, J Coughlan.
Subs: P Honohan for Ellis (half-time), D Drake for Brosnan (38), B Withers for Corry (40), S O’Brien for S O’Farrell (43), P Haughney for Lehane (54), Lehane for Haughney (66), Brosnan for O’Sullivan (74).
Referee: Pat Casey (Waterford)
AN ecstatic Limerick manager Leo O’Connor paid tribute to everyone in the county who had contributed in developing the side that delivered last night’s epic extra-time Munster U21 hurling final triumph in the Gaelic Grounds.
“It was heart-stopping stuff but it’s absolutely tremendous. We live for nights like tonight and this is a great night for Limerick hurling. This didn’t happen just tonight. It is a credit really to people like Tony Roche who have looked after development squads over the last number of years. So many other individuals like Shane Fitzgibbon, Frankie Carroll, Mike Galligan, John Kiely and Pat Donnelly have worked so hard over the last few years for this.”
“We took our chances but we definitely missed a few other chances to score some as well. We said to the lads at half-time of extra-time when we were three points down that we’d ten minutes left and to give it everything. That’s what we did and that’s why we are where we are. But we’ve got to get fellas feet back on the ground and get them thinking about the All-Ireland semi-final and thinking about working again.”
Cork boss Ger Fitzgerald said; “We had chances and maybe when we got the goal chances, we could have hit points to keep the thing ticking over. But that’s the nature of it and credit Limerick.”