Limerick U-21s recorded an incredible 4-20 to 1-27 win over Cork in the Munster final on Wednesday night. Jerome O’Connell reports
OVER an hour after the final whistle players and supporters still celebrated out on the field of the Gaelic Grounds after the Ennis Road venue witnessed one of its greatest encounters.
In an epic final of the Munster U-21 hurling championship, Limerick and Cork exchanged 52-scores over the hour and then 20-minutes of extra time.
Eventually after a thrilling ding-dong encounter, Limerick were on the right side of a two point success and the eruption of raw emotion at the final whistle told its own story.
It was a throw back to the three-in-a-row success of the early years of the last decade when encounters like this Wednesday’s night almost became the norm.
But since the last of those wins in 2002, Limerick have been starved of success at U-21 level.
On Wednesday night that wrong was righted against a Cork side that were hot favourites.
From the off the game displayed everything that is great about hurling and it was Limerick that set the tone for the night with a goal after just 20 seconds when Graeme Mulcahy side-stepped the goalkeeper before finishing one handed to the net after pressure from himself and Declan Hannon has dispossessed the Cork defence.
No one could have imagined what a contest would unfold over the next two hours - the floodlights lit up the night sky but the real stars were on the field.
From back to front Limerick had heroes all over with Aaron Murphy, Alan Dempsey, Pat Begley, Conor Allis, Shane Dowling and Mulcahy leading the way for a side managed by Leo O’Connor.
Despite the great start it was Cork that led 0-12 to 1-7 at the end of the first 30-minutes.
The star of the show was current senior football All-Star midfielder Aidan Walsh, who helped himself to five points from play in the opening half.
Limerick were overly reliant on five frees from Shane Dowling.
But two goals after the restart had Limerick buzzing.
The first came from Seanie O’Brien after six minutes and less than three minutes later, Mulcahy had his second goal.
Limerick now led 3-8 to 0-14.
Declan Hannon and Conor Allis fired over from long range and the supporters sensed another famous victory, 3-10 to 0-14.
But back came Cork with a Luke O’Farrell goal in the 48th minute.
It was now end to end and Cork tied up the game 1-17 to 3-11 to 10-minutes to play.
Mark Carmody had Limerick back on top but again the lead was cancelled out.
Then further points from Hannon and Carmody looked to seal it for the home side until Coughlan (free) and an injury time winner from Aidan Walsh from a huge distance forced extra-time - 3-11 to 1-20.
The opening period was dominated by Cork with Jamie Coughlan leading the way with three points from play. The Newtownshandrum man, a former past pupil of Hazelwood College in Dromcollogher, finished with 0-10.
By the break in extra-time Cork were in the driving seat, 1-26 to 3-17.
But there was always going to be another twist in a night of huge tension.
Indeed Cork were not to score again.
A Conor Allis free cut the lead to two and then Limerick struck for the winning line with Declan Hannon scoring the all-important goal.
It started with Alan Dempsey at the back and he transferred to Sean O’Brien, who found Mulcahy. The Kilmallock man raced through the heart of the defence and while he could have shot for goal he laid off to his right where the in-coming Hannon calmly shot low to the net.
Captain Kevin Downes embellished the goal with his first score of the night and Limerick were set for home.
But not before goalkeeper Aaron Murphy made another top drawer stop from Luke O’Farrell.
Coughlan pointed the resulting ‘65 but Hannon again replied to send the home crowd into raptures.
SCORERS - Limerick: Graeme Mulcahy 2-1, Shane Dowling 0-7 (6frees), Declan Hannon 1-4, Conor Allis 0-4 (2frees), Sean O’Brien 1-0, Mark Carmody 0-3, Kevin Downes 0-1. Cork: Jamie Coughlan 0-10 (6frees, 1 ‘65), Aidan Walsh 0-8, Luke O’Farrell 1-2, Conor Lehane 0-3, Michael O’Sullivan, Dean Brosnan, David Drake, Simon O’Brien 0-1 each.
LIMERICK – Aaron Murphy; Alan Dempsey, Patrick Begley, Stevie O’Reilly; Cathal McNamara, Cian Hayes, Thomas O’Callaghan; Conor Allis, Sean O’Brien; Niall Kennedy, Declan Hannon, Shane Dowling; Michael Ryan Kevin Downes (capt), Graeme Mulcahy. Subs: James O’Brien for Cathal McNamara (15mins), Mark Carmody for Michael Ryan (h-t), Adrian Breen for Sean O’Brien (55mins), Sean Madden for Graeme Mulcahy (60mins), Brian Cleary for Stevie O’Reilly (e-t), Graeme Mulcahy for Sean Madden (e-t), Barry O’Connell for Thomas O’Callaghan (7mins, e-t), Sean O’Brien for Adrian Breen (h-t, e-t).
Cork – Darren McCarthy, Christopher Joyce, Damien O’Cathalane, Seamus Corry; James Nagle, William Egan, Mark Ellis; Seamus O’Farrell, Daniel Roche; Dean Brosnan, Michael O’Sullivan, Aidan Walsh; Luke O’Farrell, Conor Lehane, Jamie Coughlan. Subs: Paul Honohan for Mark Ennis (h-t), David Drake for Dean Brosnan (39mins), Brendan Withers for Seamus Corry (40mins), Simon O’Brien for Seamus O’Farrell (44mins), Paul Haughney for Conor Lehane (54mins), Conor Lehane for Paul Haughney (6mins, e-t), Dean Brosnan for Michael O’Sullivan (16mins, e-t).
REFEREE: Pat Casey (Waterford).