Limerick last beat Cork in championship football in 2003. Captain Muiris Gavin and manager Liam Kearns remember the day fondly.
Limerick had just lost the Division Two National Football League final to a last gasp Westmeath goal.
And, Liam Kearns’ side had to travel to Pairc Ui Chaoimh seven days later to play Liam Tompkins’ Cork in the Munster SFC.
Beneath the Cusack Stand, Limerick captain Muiris Gavin emerged from the beaten dressing room.
Croke Park reverberated the early scores of the Division One final between Tyrone and Laois, but Gavin was about the silence the gathered media when he proclaimed that Limerick would beat Cork!
“Yeah... I was adamant we would beat Cork,” recalled Gavin .
“I remember we won promotion to Division One and Liam Kearns wanted to turn focus to Cork but the players wanted to push on and get to the league final in Croke Park. We promised him we would still be ready to beat Cork, no matter what happened in the league,” explained Gavin.
But Limerick’s only championship victory ever over Cork was in Killarney in 1965.
“We were on a three year trajectory and we hadn’t really had any setbacks like we had later when we struggled to get over the line against Kerry. I don’t remember felling any way inferior to Cork going down that day.”
Gavin continued: “That was a Limerick team of real substance in 2003. Eight or nine of the lads have played in an All-Ireland U-21 final, we had won championship games and in 2002 we had pushed Kerry and then gone on a qualifier run. Gradually we were building and the next step was to beat a Kerry or Cork,” outlined the Monaleen man, who kicked nine of Limerick’s total of 16-points in a 0-16 to 0-6 win over Cork.
Defeat in the league final wasn’t “ideal” according to manager Liam Kearns, but he too was confident of at least “a performance” against Cork.
“We wanted to win that league final and then hope that the momentum would carry us into the Cork game - in hindsight maybe the catalyst for beating Cork was losing to Westmeath. Would we have been as hungry if we won in Croke Park? Certainly losing in Croke Park drove us on for the Cork game,” outlined Kearns.
“The game in Croke Park against Westmeath wasn’t a help but then again maybe it was. We felt we should have beat Westmeath and we kept telling the lads that if we are good enough to win games, that we needed to win them and take our chances - we did take our chances and that’s why we won down in Cork,” outlined Kearns.
He added: “It was a fantastic performance to win down in their own back yard”.
“I remember, we trained on the Wednesday and Friday and it was all about recovery - just light sessions. We concentrated on the mental side really. The players were fed up with the way that they lost to Westmeath, the guys backed themselves - they expected more from the themselves.”
That hunger and desire was evident from the off.
Gavin explained: “From the start the big thing was that we were tearing into them around the field - we were ready and we never looked over our shoulder. Often with an underdog they wait for the onslaught and get pipped at the final whistle. In the half time dressing room we weren’t satisfied with a four or five point lead. We said let’s go back out and don’t look at the scoreboard - just get the next score and then the next one”.
Ahead of the game, Kearns had identified key areas.
“Cork weren’t going that brilliant and some of their selection choices were a surprise with the likes of the hurler Tom Kenny at centre forward. We felt we could win midfield and take it from there. We were written off everywhere and it was some ridiculous amount of years since Limerick had beaten Cork, but we went into it expecting a performance,” said Kearns.
Brian White’s final whistle signalled wild celebrations.
“It was great. I was especially delighted for John Quane. He lived down on the Cork border and I knew what a win over Cork meant to him. He had the opportunity to go to Cork when he was younger but he played through a decade when Limerick football was in a bad way. I still remember how thrilled he was out on the field afterwards,” outlined Gavin.