The Rebels had no selection restrictions, with many of the 2013 All-Ireland-winning side available after missing last year, but Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s fifth point of the game put Limerick 0-13 to 0-12 in front.
Alan Barry levelled for Cork immediately but it had been a frustrating game for the Rebels up to then as goal chances were missed and another was squandered when Barry couldn’t reach Anthony O’Connor’s handpass across goal.
But Cork kept pressing and regained the lead when first-half sub Séamus Hickey got his third point. Limerick might have equalised through Séamus O’Carroll but his point attempt came back off the post, and Mark Sugrue and Hickey secured the win for Cork.
“It was a tough one, in fairness,” admitted Cork manager Paul McCarthy afterwards. “They had a game played, we didn’t. That’s not an excuse, but in any championship, when you have a game played, it’s a help.
“Your team has to gel together and that’s what it took. Ultimately, all that matters is the win. We had a small bit of composure — we’d have liked to have seen more — but that’s what got us over the line.”
When captain Seán Kiely and Hickey pointed for Cork in the early stages, it looked as if the script would be followed, but four wides for the hosts by the sixth minute pointed to a sloppiness in their play.
After a sluggish start, Limerick got going through points from Jason Mullins, Michael Lyons (two) and Barry-Murphy, while O’Carroll should have goaled for them too.
Cillian Brosnan was doing well at midfield and that dominance of primary possession helped them to reassert themselves. Brosnan’s quick free allowed John Corkery to make it 0-5 to 0-4 on 18, but the lead continued to swing back and forth, Barry’s injury-time point for Cork leaving it 0-7 each at half-time.
Much of the second half followed the same pattern, with only one instance in the third quarter of either side getting more than an unanswered point.
Barry and Kiely — who appeared to have been sent off for a foul on Barry-Murphy in the 38th minute, before referee Alan Kissane corrected his error as he brandished a yellow card — had opportunities to get the goal which might have seen Cork clear, but Limerick were able to stay in contention.
On 47, Killian Ryan tied the game at 0-11 each and five minutes later O’Carroll threaded a pass to Barry-Murphy to allow him to put the visitors in front. The thoughts of many in attendance turned to the prospect of extra-time, but Cork produced enough of a finish to claim the spoils.
S Hickey, A Barry (0-4 each); M Sugrue (0-3, 1f); S Kiely (0-2); J Corkery, B Coughlan, A O’Connor (0-1).
J Barry-Murphy (0-5, 3f); M Lyons, J Mullins (2f) 0-3 each; S O’Carroll, K Ryan (0-1).
A Seymour (Castlehaven); AJ O’Connor (Kiskeam), C Hyde (Naomh Abán), J McLoughlin (Kanturk); S Kiely (Macroom), J Collins (St Mary’s), B Daly (Newmarket); M Ó Laoire (Naomh Abán), C Brosnan (Brian Dillons); J Corkery (Aghabullogue), B Coughlan (Kinsale), M Sugrue (Bandon); A O’Connor (Knocknagree), P Condon (Mayfield), A Barry (Glanmire).
S Hickey (Rockchapel) for Coughlan (7, injured), Coughlan for Condon (38), D Murphy (Ballincollig) for Hyde (48), P Daly (St Mary’s) for Corkery (50-52, blood).
G Greaney (Dromcollogher-Broadford); S Barrett (Bruff), K Brosnan (Monagea), B Hannigan (Feenagh-Kilmeedy); T McCarthy (Kildimo-Pallaskenry), M Sheehan (Fr Caseys), J Naughton (St Senan’s); D Ward (Fr Caseys), T McMahon (Pallasgreen); W Cronin (St Patrick’s), S O’Carroll (Cappagh), K Ryan (Mungret); J Barry-Murphy (Ballylanders), J Mullins (St Patrick’s), M Lyons (Adare).
T Butler (Feohanagh-Castlemahon) for Ward (16), B Fanning (Pallasgreen) for McMahon (34), K Barry (Pallasgreen) for Naughton (43), M O’Donovan (Galbally) for Ryan (49), T Quilligan (Newcastlewest) for Lyons (52).
A Kissane (Waterford).