Having given an exhibition in fielding from the third minute onwards, it was somewhat fitting that Shane O’Regan should deliver the decisive score of this Munster U20 quarter-final.
Cork full-forward O’Regan ended proceedings with 1-6 beside his name and while his 48th-minute goal was the score to finally deflate a stubborn Limerick challenge, it was his prowess in the air which so enraptured Cork supporters in the crowd of 3,354.
O’Regan was not among the 30 Cork players who travelled to Croke Park for the All-Ireland minor final two years ago, but his graph has since risen and when given his chance here by Denis Ring, he put on quite the show. O’Regan was responsible for Cork’s opening two points, both of which were carbon copies of each other. Long ball in, the right hand goes up, possession claimed, swivel, and posts split. His next three points followed the same pattern. The full-forward’s fielding was so remarkably consistent that it is a wonder Cork didn’t spend the entire evening pumping ball down on top of him.
Then again, either side of him is two most talented corner-forwards. Brian Turnbull struck two points in either half and while Even Sheehan might not have been among the scorers, his contribution was felt elsewhere. Mind you, Sheehan was desperately unlucky not to raise a green flag as it was his shot which came back off the post that O’Regan first-timed to the net for the game’s sole major.
Denis Ring’s troops needed this green flag to break the resistance of a plucky Limerick side who had clipped three-in-a-row through Paul O’Riordan, Ronan Connolly, and Paul O’Brien (free) to tie matters at 0-13 apiece approaching the three-quarter mark. The reply of the home side was an unanswered 1-2, that dangerous duo of Turnbull and O’Regan on target before the latter swept the sliotar to the net.
Two O’Brien placed-ball efforts did reduce the margin to three thereafter, but the Treaty had little left to offer after spending much of the contest attempting to reel in their opponents. Tellingly, of the game’s closing six scores, five were registered by men in red, the pick of which was a Daire Connery sideline deep into stoppages.
Cork will again enjoy home advantage when Clare travel south for next Wednesday’s semi-final, a repeat of the 2017 Munster minor final which the Rebels won handsomely.
No question but their flowing final quarter differed from a first-half where they were slow to find their rhythm and you can be sure management will seek to improve upon this ahead of the Banner’s visit in six days time, not to mention the dozen wides tallies.
Two injury-time points from Ronan Connolly and Rory Duff meant Limerick trailed by only two points at the break, the 0-10 to 0-8 scoreline wholly unreflective of a first-half where the hosts had done most of the hurling.
As well as the six first-half wides clocked, Cork were enjoying but middling success in making the final ball into the inside line of Turnbull, O’Regan, and Sheehan stick. Between the quality of delivery and the first touch of the full-forward line, at times, not being razor sharp, Cork’s dominance in possession wasn’t translating into as many scoring opportunities as should have been the case.
O’Regan’s opening two points, along with a Craig Hanifin free and Daire Connery effort, shoved the winners into an early 0-4 to 0-1 lead. Paul O’Brien, so accurate from the placed-ball, and Jack Ryan quickly restored parity and was it not for a fine Ger Collins save to deny Dylan O’Shea, Paul Beary’s side would have moved in front.
The largest the gap extended to in the opening period was four points, this directly before those earlier mentioned injury-time Limerick scores. They’d continue to claw back the deficit upon the restart but their failure to at any time lead proceedings gives a fair indication of Cork’s superiority on the night.
S O’Regan (1-6); C Hanifin (0-5, 0-3 frees); B Turnbull (0-4); D Connery (0-3, 0-1 sideline); L O’Shea (0-2).
P O’Brien (0-8, 0-6 frees, 0-2 65s); R Connolly (0-3) McCarthy (0-2); R Duff, J Ryan, P O’Riordan (0-1 each).
G Collins (Ballinhassig); C O’Callaghan (Dromtarrife), J Keating (Kildorrery), E Roche (Bride Rovers); R Walsh (Kanturk), S O’Leary Hayes (Midleton), R Downey (Glen Rovers); T O’Connell (Midleton), B Roche (Bride Rovers); S Kennefick (Glen Rovers), C Hanifin (Na Piarsaigh), D Connery (Na Piarsaigh); B Turnbull (Douglas), S O’Regan (Watergrasshill), E Sheehan (Na Piarsaigh).
G Millerick (Fr O’Neill’s) for Walsh (33 mins); S Twomey (Courcey Rovers) for Kennefick (39); D Hanlon (Blarney) for Hanfin (50); L O’Shea (Lisgoold) for Sheehan (52); B Murphy (Castlelyons) for B Roche (63).
E McEvoy (Na Piarsaigh) for Woulfe (36 mins); S O’Connor (Granagh-Ballingarry) for Sheehan (43); D Moloney (Monaleen) for Flahive (51); C Carroll (Patrickswell) for O’Riordan (59); C Nicholas (Monaleen) for Ryan (63).
T Walsh (Waterford).