The focus yesterday on Anthony Nash’s puckouts was more fixed than is normally the case.
That had a lot to do with the revelation by Diarmuid O’Sullivan early last week — well, a revelation to most — that Cork man, Kildorrery native Seán O’Donnell, was a member of the Limerick backroom team this season, having served as Cork’s “statistician and puck-out strategist” for the three previous years.
“He’s a fair idea of what Cork’s puckout strategy has been and he’ll know different types of set-ups so I presume Cork have been working away trying to change different patterns for their puckouts over the last number of weeks, just to throw Seán off the scent because he’s excellent at his job,” said O’Sullivan.
“I don’t think you could find a better guy in the game of hurling to provide you with the kind of detailed information he can provide you with. Seán will be alive and Anthony will know that.”
Such was the evidence provided early on in this contest, it certainly looked as if O’Donnell’s presence in the Limerick camp was playing on the mind of Nash.
From his first seven restarts, plus a delivery after a Limerick shot dropped short, only two found a red shirt.
Both of those were puckouts where the 33-year-old went short, first to Mark Coleman on the 45-metre line and then to Colm Spillane in the corner.
From this early catalogue of restarts, two went straight down the centre to midfield. Cian Lynch got in front of intended target Daniel Kearney in one instance, Gearóid Hegarty clipped a point from the other.
There was a Nash pass to Luke Meade which was overcooked and ran out over the Cusack Stand sideline, while both times he went long early on, a Limerick defender came away with possession.
The graph didn’t improve much, if at all, as the half wore on.
There was success off the short restarts to Sean O’Donoghue and Colm Spillane, but more often than not, the decision to pump the sliotar 80 and 90 metres down the field saw Diarmuid Byrnes, Declan Hannon, or Dan Morrissey come off best on the breaking ball.
Harnedy was the sole Cork forward enjoying any semblance of success under the Cork puckout when it sailed into the opposition half and one of his catches set up the goal chance where Nickie Quaid tipped over Shane Kingston’s drive.
Certainly, Nash’s graph and, indeed, his success rate rose upon the change of ends.
This had much to do with Conor Lehane imposing himself on proceedings and several puckouts were put in front of the Midleton forward over on the Cusack Stand side between the Limerick 65 and 45-metre lines.
It was one of these restarts, directly after Aaron Gillane had edged Limerick in front in the fourth minute of second-half stoppages, which hopped perfectly in front of the 25-year-old.
The Limerick defender tackled Lehane illegally from behind and Cork had their shot at salvation, which Horgan successfully nailed.
Liam Sheehy, on duty for RTÉ television, praised the two-time All-Star goalkeeper for being so brave as to seek out Lehane with Cork behind by the minimum and time almost elapsed.
It was another long puckout which delivered the Cork goal earlier in the half, although there was an element of good fortune here as Dan Morrissey really should have intercepted.
Instead, the ball ran onto Lehane and he goaled.
The short-ball strategy was again present throughout the second period, with full-back Damien Cahalane the receiver the majority of the time.
What followed in extra-time was accurately summarised by John Kiely afterwards.
“We managed to get a foothold on the Cork puckout.”
Again, there was plenty of variation to what the Kanturk shot-stopper was doing, but when the strategy was to go long, the Limerick defence, Richie English, in particular, were cleaning up on the breaking ball.