It was hardly a vintage performance by the home team, and a bright Limerick side certainly made them work for their win but, as so often in this season of plenty for Cork City, they found a way to prevail in the end.
After heavy showers had doused the turf, kick off arrived with Limerick showing one change from the side which had surprised City in the league with a 2-1 win the previous week, Dean Clarke coming in for Barry Cotter, while Cork boss John Caulfield made two alterations to the team which drew 1-1 with Dundalk on Monday, Kieran Sadlier and young defender Conor McCarthy coming in as Jimmy Keohane and Steven Beattie dropped to the bench.
Both goalkeepers were called into action in the opening end-to-end exchanges but Cork should really have been ahead as early as the fifth minute, Garry Buckley left with his head in his hands when he side-footed a first-time shot over the bar after Karl Sheppard had found him unmarked in the centre of the penalty area.
But it took only until the 14th minute for Buckley to make amends, popping up at the far post to turn in a Sadlier volley which was an inspired pass.
The Shed End erupted in celebration as Buckley wheeled away to accept the acclaim of his team mates.
City, playing some good stuff in the build-up, now looked like taking control as, in quick succession, Gearoid Morrissey and Karl Sheppard had shots just over top, the latter’s deflected effort resulting in a Shane Griffin corner which big defender Ryan Delaney — who received another Ireland U21 call-up yesterday — met with a thumping but off-target header.
But Limerick weathered the mini-storm and, with Rodrigo Tosi, Lee J Lynch, and ex-City man Chiedozie Ogbene combining well in the final third, and Batien Hery pulling the strings at the base of the midfield, the visitors began to ask repeated questions of the Cork rearguard, even if Cork’s defensive shield meant that keeper Mark McNulty was largely confined to having to deal with fairly tame shots from distance.
By contrast with Limerick’s enterprising football, however, City had decidedly gone off the boil around the 20- minute mark, their cause not helped by the gifting of possession to their opponents with some sloppy passing in the middle of the field.
And just a minute before the break, the Shannonsiders came as close as they would in an intriguing first half to making them pay, a sequence of expansive passes ending with the slippery Ogbene making himself enough space to get away a low drive which Mark McNulty initially did well to push away with one hand before he could gratefully smother the ball.
It wasn’t hard to imagine that, in the home dressing room at half time, John Caulfield would have been urging his players to up their tempo and intensity in the second period. But less than 10 minutes after the restart, it was Limerick who came close to finding the net, Brazilian striker Tosi rising highest in the box but heading just over from Frenchman Heri’s cross.
The City manager hadn’t waited long before sending Jimmy Keohane in for Stephen Dooley as his players continued to show signs that the effort which had gone into Monday night’s pulsating draw with Dundalk had perhaps taken a toll on mind and body.
But, as epitomised by the selfless running and battling of Karl Sheppard, this City team are a gutsy crew and, even though they had to survive one hair-raising goal line scramble late on, the cup-holders stayed resolute enough to keep Limerick at arm’s length and protect their lead through to the final whistle.
All eyes now turn to Oriel Park tomorrow where Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers meet to decide the other FAI cup semi-final, with the Lilywhites — like Cork City —looking to make it to the Aviva for the third year in a row. Kick off is at 4.45pm.
McNulty, McCarthy, Bennett, Delaney, Griffin, McCormack, Morrissey, Dooley (Keohane 53), Buckley, Sadlier (Beattie 80), Sheppard (Campion 89).
B Clarke; D Clarke, Whitehead, O’Connor, Tracy; Hery, Lynch (O’Flynn), Duggan, Kenny (Berki 70); Ogbene, Tosi.
Ray Matthews (Mullingar).