How we missed your winning combination of biting cold, farcical officiating and mistimed challenges.
All those boxes were ticked in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday night, as Cork and Limerick thrashed out a draw in Division 1B of the NHL.
Billed as a de facto promotion battle between the two top teams in the section, the weekend stalemate means the division will now stay competitive, at least.
That’s not how Saturday night was early on — competitive, that is. Cork destroyed Limerick in the first quarter, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan hitting six points, each better than the last, with Horgan dropping in a Wayne Gretzky-type cushioned assist to Cian McCarthy as well. Limerick were floundering and if Stephen Moylan had kept his shot down when one-on-one with Nicky Quaid and goaled, it could have been all over.
Limerick manager TJ Ryan described the period as a “skinning” for his side. The game changed on 26 minutes when referee James Owens gave Graeme Mulcahy a straight red for an off-the-ball incident with Killian Murphy. Limerick, then trailing by five, added two points after the dismissal to make it 0-9 to 0-6 at the half; Cork had six wides in the 10 minutes to the break and were no better on resuming.
Presumably many home supporters were interested in how footballer Aidan Walsh performed. Though Cork ‘keeper Anthony Nash looked for him with his first puck-out, it was 27 minutes before Walsh — wearing 14 but playing as a no. 12 — got his paw on his clubmate’s clearance and his sole first-half shot drifted wide.
Yet Walsh’s movement was impressive — more than once he was a pass away from a clear run on goal, though his industry was lost in the flare and flash of Lehane and Horgan’s early points.
Limerick were appreciably better than Cork in that second-half — their half-back line of Paudie O’Brien, Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Mahony gave them an excellent platform, with O’Brien surging upfield for a terrific point. They covered well for each other in defence, and Cork never looked like getting a goal, while Shane Dowling’s accuracy from frees kept them in touch.
The home side were energised by the introduction of Alan Cadogan and Michael Cahalane — the latter replacing Aidan Walsh, forced off after a crude challenge from Wayne McNamara, who was booked.
Cadogan had two points to nudge Cork ahead, while a Moylan effort late on sparked a ludicrous group discussion involving referee Owens, two indecisive umpires and a linesman before the white flag was raised to put Cork two up: cue ironic cheers from the home support, who were vocal in their dissatisfaction with some of Owens’ calls in the second-half.
With time running out, Dowling levelled, again from placed balls, but Cork sub Michael O’Sullivan snatched a superb point from the sideline. With the clock edging past the two announced minutes of injury time, it looked a winner, but from the puck-out Owens awarded a free to Limerick — to Cork boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s disbelief: “I don’t know what the last free was for, I was amazed it was given; it looked a completely accidental clash.”
Dowling obliged with the equaliser. Limerick were undoubtedly happier with the draw, but coach Donal O’Grady will no doubt be working the defence hard during the week after their first-quarter travails. They’ll want more of a return from their other forwards as well — not every side will give Shane Dowling 11 scoreable frees and 65s — though the dismissal of Mulcahy will temper criticism of the spread of scorers. In the other corner Cork could legitimately point to the departure of Walsh, Conor Lehane (just after half-time) and substitute Luke O’Farrell as unsettling for their forward line, but it was a defender whose absence was felt more keenly.
In defeating Dublin and Kilkenny when they were reduced to 14 men in last year’s championship, corner-back Conor O’Sullivan played the free role to perfection, mopping up ball and distributing superbly — Barry-Murphy sorely missed that option last Saturday.
The result changes both managers’ perspective on the remaining games. A win would have encouraged the victorious manager to experiment a little with some of the assigments to come, but the need to win and rack up high totals for scoring difference purposes must now be balanced by both Ryan and Barry-Murphy with the need to find new faces Welcome back, Division 1B. How we missed you.
CORK: A. Nash; S. White, S. O’Neill, K. Murphy, M. Ellis, C. Joyce, W. Egan, D. Kearney, L. McLoughlin, R. O’Shea, C. McCarthy, A. Walsh, S. Moylan, C. Lehane, P. Horgan.
LIMERICK: N. Quaid; S. Walsh, R. McCarthy, T. Condon, P. O’Brien, W. McNamara, G. O’Mahony, P. Browne, D. O’Grady (c), T. Ryan, J. Ryan, C. Allis, G. Mulcahy, S. Dowling, S.Tobin.
Scorers for Cork: P. Horgan 0-8 (0-2f); C. Lehane, C. McCarthy, S. Moylan, A. Cadogan 0-2 each; M. O’Sullivan 0-1.
Scorers for Limerick: S. Dowling 0-11 (0-8 fs, 0-2 65s); P. Browne 0-3; P. O’Brien 0-2; C. Allis 0-1.
Subs for Cork: A. Cadogan for Lehane (39); M. Cahalane for Walsh (46); L. O’Farrell for McCarthy (54), M. O’Sullivan for O’Farrell (58), P. Haughney for Kearney (64).
Limerick sub: K. Downes for T. Ryan (54).
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).