AN AMAZING end to a pulsating game yesterday as, for the second week in-a-row, Cork stormed back from probable defeat to snatch a dramatic late victory over Munster rivals.
Just as Clare suffered last week, Limerick were pipped at the post in Páirc Uí Chaoimh by the men in red.
In fairness, both sides would have gladly taken a draw in this rousing NHL tie as the clock ticked into the second minute of added time, but Cork substitute Neil Ronan sparked wild scenes of celebration at the final whistle with a superb match-winning point.
It may be only late March but this was as good a game of hurling you are likely to see, both sides producing a tremendous last quarter that had the 4,574 official crowd in full voice.
Limerick looked to have the game won after they had crept into a goal lead — 2-16 to 1-16 — by the 58th minute, but they failed to score for the remaining 14 minutes (two were added) as the home side introduced a couple of substitutes to telling effect.
The visitors had a good case for deserving a share of the spoils but the arrival of Tadgh Óg Murphy, Patrick Cronin and Ronan into the Cork attack, changed all that, with Ronan’s eventually proving Cork’s hero.
The Ballyhea man picked up the sliotar in a seemingly innocuous position wide on the left-hand side of the pitch in the 72nd minute, but turning to his right, he hit over a superb point worthy of winning the game.
Cork need at least one more point to be sure of staying in Division On, but on the face of things, this result — and in particular the manner in which it was achieved — suggests they are going in the right direction now that matters off the field have finally been put to rest.
Limerick will point to the loss of centre back Brian Geary as one of the principal reasons they failed to win. The Monaleen man was majestic in the heart of their defence, but was forced off after receiving a yellow card for a blatant foul on Kieran Murphy (Sars). The Cork player was taken off as a result, and is unlikely to be fit for next week’s mouthwatering clash with Kilkenny.
The home side also lost Seán Óg Ó hAilpín after 28 minutes with what appeared to be a recurrence of a hamstring injury, and he too is very doubtful for the Nowlan Park clash.
Cork couldn’t have asked for a better start when Jerry O’Connor belted in a goal in the opening minute after Kieran Murphy (Erin’s Own) picked him out with an inch perfect pass.
O’Connor’s marker must take a share of the blame for that goal because the Newtownshandrum clubman was left all alone on the 20 metre line, but both sides were guilty of loose play and while it made for a great match and plenty of scores, no team will get away with it in Championship.
Cork laboured at midfield where the Limerick duo of Seamus Hickey and Donal O’Grady shaded matters over Tom Kenny and Cathal Naughton.
With Niall Moran unerring from frees, the visitors were on level terms for the first of six occasions when Pat Tobin dived full length to flick David Breen’s cross to the roof of the net, and they led 1-11 to 1-9 at the interval. The Cork defence soaked up a lot of pressure in that opening half with Shane O’Neill, Eoin Cadogan and Ronan Curran clearing a world of ball.
Limerick should have goaled a second time in the 45th minute, which would have put them six points clear: David Breen won a great ball over Eoin Cadogan to put Andrew O’Shaughnessy in one-on-one with Cork keeper Donal Óg Cusack but Cadogan got back to deny the Army man with a magnificent block.
The turning point in the game came three minutes later when Geary was yellow-carded and while Seamus Hickey went back and did a commendable job, Geary was a major loss.
However Cork were having the better of the exchanges overall and after Ben O’Connor pointed two frees in-a-row to tie the game for the fifth time, substitute Óg Murphy raised the roof with the lead point.
The pace of the game had quickened considerably as time ticked away and Limerick looked to have sealed the win when O’Grady was given freedom to race away before drilling the sliotar to the back of the Cork net.
Cork refused to panic though, and the introduction of Cronin and Ronan, coupled with the excellence of Curran and Kieran McGann in the half-back line, pinned Limerick back.
Under enormous pressure, the Shannonsiders lost a second defender Donal Moloney, for a yellow card offence, and roared on by the home crowd, Cork finished strongly with four points in-a-row to take the spoils.
Scorers for Cork: B. O’Connor 0-7 (0-5 frees); J. O’Connor 1-2; T. Kenny 0-3; C. Naughton, T. Og Murphy 0-2 each; K. Murphy (Sars), K. Murphy (Erins Own), P. Cronin, N. Ronan 0-1 each.
Limerick: N. Moran 0-8 (0-5 frees, 0-2 65s); P. Tobin, D. O’Grady 1-1 each; D. Breen 0-2; S. Hickey, A. O’Shaughnessy, J. Ryan, M. O’Riordan 0-1 each.
CORK: D. Og Cusack; S. O’Neill, E. Cadogan, C. O’Sullivan; J. Gardiner, R. Curran, S. Og O hAilpin; T. Kenny, C. Naughton; B. O’Connor, K. Murphy (Erin’s Own), J. O’Connor; P. Horgan, K. Murphy (Sars), P. O’Sullivan.
Subs: K. McGann for O hAilpin (20); T. Og Murphy for O’Sullivan (47); P. Cronin for K. Murphy (Sars) (48); N. Ronan for Naughton (60).
LIMERICK: B. Murray; D. Reale, S. Lucey, S. Walsh; M. O’Riordan, B. Geary, G. O’Mahony; D. O’Grady, S. Hickey; P. Browne, J. Ryan, N. Moran; A. O’Shaughnessy, D. Breen, P. Tobin.
Subs: D. Moloney for O’Mahony (24); W. McNamara for Geary (47); G. Mulcahy for Tobin (53); T. Condon for Moloney (55); R. McCarthy for Breen (64).
Referee: J. Owens (Wexford).
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