The Munster League final reverse and more pertinently, the seven-goal annihilation on their own patch at the hands of the Rebels back in January would have played on the collective mindset as they made the journey south for yesterday’s quarter-final.
Could they stomach three defeats to their next door neighbours within a two and a half month spell - and we not even beyond the first week of April?
Factor in then their recent second-half no shows against Galway and Wexford respectively and is it little wonder it was John Kiely’s charges who made the crucial push when this game was there for the winning with two minutes of normal time remaining. This was a fixture they had to take something from. This was a spring they simply had to salvage.
On both counts, they were successful.
Level at 1-17 apiece, full- forward Kyle Hayes nudged the Treaty men in front with a fine score on the run.
But given this was a second-half level on five occasions and where the lead changed hands four times, a one-point advantage was never going to stand up – especially when referee Fergal Horgan signalled for four minutes of injury-time.
Gearóid Hegarty, who caused the Cork full-back line endless problems when moved inside upon the change of ends, clipped his fourth from play to send them two clear. And their semi-final place was secure when sub John Fitzgibbon punished an Anthony Nash restart that didn’t find its intended target.
Cork chased the required goal but the closest they came was a Mark Coleman ’65 which carried too much purchase and sailed between Nickie Quaid’s posts. Management, though, will have been more disappointed with the performance than the result. There was just no spark to this Cork showing.
Of their nine second-half scores, six arrived via the placed ball. Alan Cadogan had taken Mike Casey for two first-half points and also won a pair of frees converted by Patrick Horgan, but he was starved of ball in the second period and eventually withdrawn. Harnedy aside, no Cork forward made an impression in the second period.
Further back, the visitors’ ploy of operating with four across the 45-metre line and two inside stretched the home full-back line and they endured a difficult closing half hour. David Dempsey could have had a second goal but for poor control of the sliotar. Dowling notched four from dead balls, while man-of-the-match Gearóid Hegarty hit a hat-trick from open play, including a sideline cut.
“When he went in around the square, he was a bit of a danger and a bit of a threat to them inside there,” said Kiely of Hegarty’s second-half offering.
“He caught a few balls and if he wasn’t catching them, they were falling and he was retaining them in the danger area. The sideline he took, I was actually roaring across to get somebody else to take it. Next thing, it flashes over the bar. What do you say to that?”
The sides went in level at the break, 1-9 apiece, but both were left frustrated by throwing away five and three-point advantages. The visitors opened much the brighter and a David Dempsey goal on 11 minutes, followed as it was by a white flag from his namesake Alan, had the visitors 1-4 to 0-2 clear. And full value they were for it.
Between there and the 28th minute, though, they’d only hit one point – Cian Lynch punishing poor defensive play on the quarter hour mark. There followed five unanswered Cork points – Coleman, Horgan (two frees), Cadogan and Meade the providers – to level matters at 0-8 to 1-5.
On 26 minutes, the home outfit forged clear. Lorcán McLoughlin played an absolute peach of a pass along the floor to put Luke Meade inside the cover and the young Newcestown forward duly obliged, even if Nickie Quaid got a stick to the shot.
Kieran Kingston’s charges had chances to open up a more substantial gap thereafter. Patrick Horgan was twice off target. Bill Cooper hit the post and no question but these misses stunted their dominance.
The closing passages belonged to the winners as three from the stick of Dowling and Hegarty’s opening score brought Kiely’s men back on level footing.
Cork, though disappointing here, head into the summer in far better shape than 12 months ago. The wins away to Waterford and home to Tipperary will sustain them during the month and a half break to their championship opener at Semple Stadium.
Limerick, despite finishing third in the second tier, are just 70 minutes from a league final. Standing in their path is a Galway team who are likely to be without the injured Joe Canning.
How quickly their spring has turned – and turned for the better.
S Dowling (0-9, 0-8 frees); G Hegarty (0-4); D Dempsey (1-1); K Hayes, C Lynch (0-2 each); A Dempsey, J Fitzgibbon (0-1 each).
P Horgan (0-8, 0-7 frees); L Meade (1-1); S Harnedy (0-3); M Coleman (0-1 ‘65), A Cadogan (0-2 each); A Nash (0-1 free), B Cooper (0-1 each).
N Quaid; R English, R McCarthy, M Casey; D Byrnes, D Hannon, S Hickey; W O’Donoghue, A Dempsey; S Dowling, D Dempsey, G Hegarty; G Mulcahy, K Hayes, C Lynch.
B Nash for D Dempsey (50); P Ryan for A Dempsey (50); P Casey for Mulcahy (52); J Fitzgibbon for O’Donoghue (61); G O’Mahony for Hannon (63).
A Nash; S McDonnell, D Griffin, C Spillane; C Joyce, M Ellis, M Coleman; L McLoughlin, D Brosnan; B Cooper, S Harnedy, L Meade; A Cadogan, P Horgan, D Fitzgibbon.
B Lawton for Griffin (HT); M Cahalane for Fitzgibbon (42); D Kearney for Brosnan (54); L O’Farrell for Cadogan (70).
F Horgan (Tipperary).
60 Second Report
Cork squandered three scoring opportunities after a burst of 1-5 without reply midway through the first-half had put them 1-8 to 1-5 ahead. Had they opened a bigger gap, it would have asked more searching questions of Limerick. As it was, the visitors clipped the next four scores before the break.
Limerick forming one-third of what was a pretty decent afternoon for Division 1B counties. Is the uneven nature of the second tier which afforded Limerick, Galway and Wexford a couple of handy outings working in their favour when they meet Division 1A sides, who had to empty the tank Sunday after Sunday?
David Dempsey fumbling a second-half goal chance. A second green flag for the Na Piarsaigh youngster looked certain.
Gearoid Hegarty was somewhat subdued by Christopher Joyce in the first-half, but thrived when moved into the corner upon the change of ends. He finished with four points from play.
Limerick went with four across the half-forward line and two inside. This had more of an effect in the second period when Gearoid Hegarty took up station close to the Cork goal.
Fergal Horgan handed out six yellow cards, three on either side. No major calls to report
Limerick play Galway in the semis in a fortnight. Cork are not out again until their Munster championship opener against Tipperary on May 21.