In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks back on Sunday’s Munster final.
On 12 previous occasions in the past Limerick were dethroned as Munster champions, and once more it was Cork who derailed the Limerick bandwagon on home soil last weekend.
This Munster final won’t be remembered for hurling quality but as a contest it hung in the balance for long stages but overall Cork were the better team on the day. They were smarter, more direct and made good decisions on the line and on the field, which was to have a telling impact on the outcome of where the cup would rest for 2014.
Limerick went to Cork looking for back to back titles and while it took them a while to settle, they did have a very good opening quarter where they had the better of Cork in some vital positions. During their period of dominance Limerick should have pushed on more but they hit some poor wides and also made bad choices which allowed Cork into the game. Once Cork settled they played some good hurling and before we knew it Limerick went from 0-8 to 0-4 up to trailing by three points. Cork landed seven points in a row and it was clear to all now that the Limerick defence were in trouble. Wayne McNamara was doing his best to hold the centre but Paudie O Brien and Gavin O’Mahony were in real trouble on the wings.
Shane Dowling had a few poor misses early on but after that Limerick played really well. David Breen was causing Cork all sorts of problems but the Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy gave the instruction to Aidan Walsh to come deep in front of Breen and this was to have a major impact on the game. Dowling, James Ryan and Graeme Mulcahy had good points and when Declan Hannon, Kevin Downes and Donal O’Grady scored it looked like Limerick could build up a big lead.
Hannon had one fine point but he was well out of the game from here on. Donal O’Grady has given great service to Limerick, his points were exceptional and he also won a free after a brilliant catch - but at 34 it’s a big ask for him to last the 70 minutes.
Cork started to dominate the Limerick defence and with Conor Lehane causing Paudie O’Brien real trouble they gained a foothold in the game that didn’t look possible in the opening quarter. Limerick had gone 13 minutes without a score but in fairness to O’Brien he landed a good point and the team showed some heart to finish the half with three more from Mulcahy, Browne and Dowling which left the teams level at half time.
After the Tipperary game and indeed over the last couple of years I have spoken about our defence and the lack of player development in Limerick. This once more could be seen by all last Sunday.
Our bench is weak and very few players have been developed. How some lads are still sitting on the bench is just hard to believe. I said before that some on the field and others on the bench could nearly wash their own jerseys at this stage. Does Limerick need three goalkeepers on the panel?
There is a level of comfort and until that is sorted and management make the hard calls we will find it difficult to make real and sustained progress. The sideline was slow in making the tough calls last Sunday and they appeared to be moving lads instead of doing the right thing. Cathal King and Thomas Ryan should have come on much earlier.
The game was a good battle in the opening 20 minutes of the second half as it was point for point but Cork had taken control at midfield and this was putting huge pressure on the Limerick backs.
Seamus Harnedy showed early signs in the second half that he was making progress. The East Cork man left five Limerick backs looking at him when he scored the opening goal, this really strengthened the Cork challenge.
Limerick were starting to make some silly mistakes, Paul Browne made a super run but he pondered and was robbed and it came down field for a point from Cork’s Bill Cooper. Limerick was now swimming in the deep end and when Paudie O’Sullivan scored the second goal it ended the game as a contest.
Mistakes cost Limerick dearly both on the field and on the line but many players showed great heart and pride in the way they battled. Limerick had at least three good goal chances but they were not taken, couple that with some below par performances of some players and still only those two goals separated the sides at the finish.
Shane Dowling finished the day with 0-12 (nine from frees) and could also have had a couple of goals. He worked hard but he will need much more help in the forward line. Graeme Mulcahy and David Breen made a fine contribution but others will have to improve. Declan Hannon is a player of huge ability but he is struggling with form over the past couple of years. For me a move to the half backline might just be the thing to ignite his game once more.
It would have been desirable to win back to back titles but all is not lost. They will face the winner of Wexford and Waterford who play next weekend and I feel Limerick have the ability to beat either team.
I have seen both play over the past couple of weeks and they are improving but I still think Limerick has enough quality to win a place in the quarter finals.
Limerick have time to get things right but a few tough decisions will be vital to Limerick moving forward.
Some big calls could be rewarded handsomely.