NEW Cork manager Pat Ryan saw his side bounce back from an eight-point interval deficit to pip All-Ireland champions in an Allianz League Páirc ui Chaoimh thriller on Saturday night.
Second-half goals from Robbie O'Flynn and Declan Dalton fired the Rebels back into the game, played in front of over 19,000 spectators.
O'Flynn was forced off on a stretcher in the closing ten minutes with a serious looking ankle injury and though Limerick went ahead twice in the ten minutes of additional time, Shane Kingston broke in from the right touchline to score the winner from an acute angle in the 80th minute of the game.
Veteran attacker Patrick Horgan finished with ten points for the victors, while rookie full back Eoin Downey delivered a polished performance for Ryan's side.
A substandard first half from Cork gave way to a second period full of urgency - and the latter just about outdid the former to secure the hosts a one-point opening night League victory.
That 10 minutes of injury time were required owed to the leg injury sustained by Robbie O’Flynn who had to be stretchered from the field in the 67th minute. The scorer of Cork’s first goal and the provider of the assist for their second, O’Flynn appeared to be in some distress when hitting the deck.
With Mark Coleman, Alan Connolly, and Darragh Fitzgibbon already on the treatment table, Cork will hope that O’Flynn’s injury is not as serious as initial replays suggested.
Trailing by eight (0-16 to 0-8) at the turnaround, Cork completed a nine-point swing - thanks to goals from O’Flynn on 39 minutes and Declan Dalton on 46 minutes - to lead for the first time on 55 minutes.
Four-in-a-row from the up-to-then tiring visitors - David Reidy (two frees), Ciaran Barry and Donnacha Ó Dálaigh on target - shoved Limerick back into pole position, 0-22 to 2-14, halfway through the lengthy period of injury-time.
But Cork, as they had done in the pre-season Munster SHL final, finished much the stronger. Patrick Horgan brought his tally into double digits, followed by the equaliser from Lehane, followed by the winner from Kingston. No time was there for the All-Ireland champions to chase a share of the spoils.
A Cork victory was an unlikely outcome at the break. Their first half struggles were captured in an interval scoreline that had the visitors enjoying a double scores 0-16 to 0-8 advantage.
Gearoid Hegarty was playing his first game in green since last July’s All-Ireland final. The half-forward had top-scored in that decider as a direct consequence of Kilkenny’s failure to stand on his toes. The same looseness was afforded to the 2020 hurler of the year for the entire opening quarter here, and a bit beyond that too. It was no surprise then when totting scorers during the interval break to see Hegarty leading the way from open play with 0-3, a tally accrued inside the first 21 minutes.
One of Hegarty’s three came from a really poor Conor Lehane mistake, another was a long Cork restart that failed to find a red shirt. The latter was a recurring theme throughout the opening 35 minutes. Of 11 Cork restarts that went long, nine ended up in green paws. Not for the first time, Limerick fairly devoured the opposition puckout.
Another area where the home side fell down was their shooting. Seven wides had been tallied by the 15th minute. They finished with a first half total of nine. There were three more dropped short.
Where there were positives to be gleaned was in the first half performance of Cork’s full-back line, two-thirds of which were League debutants.
Seamus Flanagan’s point in first half injury time was the first score by a member of the Limerick inside line. It left the visitors 0-15 to 0-8 in front. The last score of the half also came from a Limerick inside forward, Adam English writing his name onto the scoresheet.
The Treaty led from inside the first minute. Three-in-a-row from Glen clubmates Patrick Horgan (0-2, one free) and Eoin Downey brought the hosts back within two, 0-10 to 0-8, on 29 minutes. Limerick’s response was to reel off six on the spin before the break to move out to eight in front.
Limerick energy levels dropped noticeably in the second period, indicative of where they are and the heavy lifting early season work that still needs to be got through. Space opened up in the Limerick half back line where it had not been in the first 35 minutes. Examples of their swarm tackling became harder and harder to find.
Cork capitalised on their opponents flagging, and while 14 wides hindered their charge at times, they just about got there in the end.
A win for Pat Ryan and his group, but so, so much to improve upon.
P Horgan (0-10, 0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘65); R O’Flynn (1-1); D Dalton (1-0); E Downey, C Joyce, L Meade, B Roche, C Cahalane, S Kingston (0-1 each).
D Reidy (0-8, 7 frees, 0-1 ‘65); G Hegarty (0-3); C Coughlan, A English (0-2 each); D Hannon, D O’Donovan, B Murphy, T Morrissey, S Flanagan, D Ó Dalaigh, C Barry (0-1 each).
: P Collins; S O’Donoghue, R Downey, C O’Callaghan; T O’Connell, C Joyce, D Cahalane; B O’Sullivan, L Meade; B Roche, C Lehane, C Beausang; P Horgan, D Dalton, R O’Flynn.
: N O’Leary for O’Donoghue (30, inj); S Kingston for Beausang (40); S Barrett for O’Sullivan (43); B Hayes for Dalton (55); C Cahalane for O’Flynn (67, inj).
: D McCarthy; A Costelloe, S Finn, R English; D Morrissey, D Hannon, C Coughlan; D O’Donovan, B Murphy; G Hegarty, D Reidy, T Morrissey; A English, S Flanagan, O O’Reilly.
: F O’Connor for Costelloe (3-6 mins, temporary); C Barry for Hannon (48); S O’Brien for O’Reilly (50); G Mulcahy for English (55); C Lynch for Hegarty (58); D Ó Dalaigh for Flanagan (68).
F Horgan (Tipperary).