A worthy win too, champions Limerick dethroned after a fine contest, with goals proving the difference in the end.
As was the case last year in the Gaelic Grounds, the minor final beforehand set the tone and, as with this senior final, it was a repeat pairing. A cracking contest it was too but in a reversal of fortunes from 2013, this time it was the Waterford minors coming back from the dead to snatch a late draw.
For the vast throngs who travelled from Limerick, it was an omen — this wasn’t going to be their day.
It started well, three points on the board from free-taker Shane Dowling, totemic midfielder James Ryan and pacy corner-forward Graeme Dowling before Cork got off the mark, Aidan Walsh on target.
And mention of Walsh and Ryan, what a battle they had in midfield, likewise their respective partners, Daniel Kearney and Paul Browne, a microcosm of the game itself, with Limerick on top early but the Cork duo eventually winning out.
Back to the game, and even to the 21st minute, it was still Limerick looking the better side and fully deserving of their 0-8 to 0-4 lead. Indeed it would have been more but for some poor shooting. At this stage, several Limerick forwards were making their presence felt, captain Donal O’Grady with two points, Declan Hannon with a huge score from downtown, Kevin Downes also chipping in.
But at the same time Cork were beginning to find their rhythm, and showing the kind of free-wheeling, free-scoring form that got them within seconds of winning last year’s All-Ireland title. Over the next 15 minutes, they outscored the title-holders eight points to one, taking an 0-12 to 0-9 lead as the game went into injury-time.
Goalkeeper Anthony Nash started the run, a free from just outside his 45m line, then Patrick Horgan (three), speedy Alan Cadogan (two) and the sublime Conor Lehane (two) did the rest. It was looking bad for Limerick at this stage but three quick points from Mulcahy, Paul Browne and Dowling again left the teams tied at the break, 0-12 apiece.
Limerick again had the better of proceedings at the start of the second half edging into a two-point lead after 10 minutes, Dowling with three of those, hard-working David Breen with the other. Cork however had made a significant substitution, with Paudie O’Sullivan on for the injured Pa Cronin. With his first touch, the Cloyne man showed why he was so missed last year, with a fast-hands wristy angled point. Even better was to come from Paudie, but more on that later.
Again Cork raised their game and in the 53rd minute it was all square again, 0-18 each, still anybody’s game. On a couple of occasions Limerick threatened goals, Shane Dowling caused real problems on the edge of the square with his fetching ability and strength under the dropping ball, Paul Browne almost put through after some lovely combination work with Graeme Mulcahy. The Cork defence, however, was now getting on top, Christopher Joyce doing some great covering, Shane O’Neill and Stephen McDonnell strong inside, while Mark Ellis again excelled at centre-back and Lorcán McLoughlin also doing some neat tidying up.
The half-forward line though was where Cork now really got on top. Bill Cooper is an old-fashioned down-and-dirty type centre-forward, works like a dog and with a flick here, a boot to the ball there, he breaks up the opposing centre-back while creating openings. And he scores, had two important points for Cork in that second half.
Seamus Harnedy — the find of last season — was also stepped forward. Already in this half he had a point but in the 54th minute, the decisive breakthrough in this game, the first goal. Winning yet another of Nash’s huge second-half puckouts, he broke through a few tackles, bore down on Nicky Quaid and from close range, hammered to the net.
Limerick fought back, managed a few points but every time they did, Cork had a reply at the other end. Entering the final stages, that goal still separated them (1-22 to 0-22).
Then came the second hammer-blow for the champions, another Paudie special. It started with Daniel Kearney’s rob of Seamus Hickey in midfield, then a perfect delivery, perfect control under serious pressure from Richie McCarthy and an even more perfect strike past the helpless Nicky Quaid.
That was it, another Munster final done, dusted, Cork’s 52nd title, and the home fans singing in the Páirc.
More significantly though, the first silverware for this group under Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Better to come? A long road there yet.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (0-8, 6fs), S Harnedy (1-2), C Lehane (0-5), P O’Sullivan (1-1), A Cadogan (0-3), A Walsh, B Cooper (0-2), A Nash (f) (0-1).
Scorers for Limerick: S Dowling (0-12, 9fs), G Mulcahy (0-3), D O’Grady (0-2), K Downes, D Hannon, D Breen, P Browne, J Ryan, W McNamara, P O’Brien (0-1 each).
CORK: A Nash; C Joyce, S O’Neill, S McDonnell; L McLoughlin, M Ellis, D Cahalane; D Kearney, A Walsh; S Harnedy, B Cooper, C Lehane; A Cadogan, P Horgan, P Cronin (c).
Subs for Cork: P O’Sullivan for Cronin (inj. 35), W Egan for Cahalane (43), S Moylan for Cadogan (69).
LIMERICK: N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, S Hickey; P O’Brien, W McNamara, G O’Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Hannon, D O’Grady (c), S Dowling; G Mulcahy, K Downes, D Breen.
Subs for Limerick: S Walsh for O’Brien (52); S Tobin for Hannon (54); C King for O’Mahony (67); T Ryan for Downes (68).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).
Cork’s second goal put the seal on the deal, a Paudie O’Sullivan special, but Seamus Harnedy’s solo effort in the 54th minute was what finally started to open a bit of daylight between two well-matched teams.
The Munster senior hurling final, the fantastic occasion that is, graced yesterday by not two but four excellent teams, the Limerick and Waterford minors also playing their part.
Did Cork really take the field for the second half with only 14 men, injured captain Pa Cronin not replaced until a minute in?
Heroes on both sides, Shane Dowling Limerick’s best attacker, Seamus Harnedy’s second half 1-2 vital, but giving it to centre-forward Cork’s Bill Cooper for his trojan work.
Cork went mano-a-mano in defence and it worked, no goals conceded especially; Limerick moved to stem the bleeding in the half-back line, but perhaps too slowly.
Brian Gavin (Offaly) celebrated his birthday in style with a superb performance; also became the first man to referee two Munster hurling finals in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday, August 17 for Cork, All-Ireland quarter-final a few weeks earlier for Limerick, Sunday July 27, against a qualifier winner.