Limerick host Cork this Sunday in the Munster Hurling final in the Gaelic Grounds. Both teams were underdogs in their respective semi finals but were thoroughly deserving of a spot in the Munster showpiece. Cork haven’t won a Munster title since 2006 and you have to go back a further ten years to 1996 for the last Limerick victory when Ciarán Carey captained the Treaty men.
Limerick booked their ticket in the final with a well deserved win over Tipperary at the same venue. The foundation for their success was built on a rock solid defence that were on top of Tipp all afternoon. The worry in advance of that game was that they might not trouble the umpires often enough but with this defence eighteen points will win a lot of games for them. The half forward line is light on scoring prowess but Donal O’Grady is likely to ease this shortcoming from midfield. Their win over Tipperary now seems like an eternity ago given the all action nature of the hurling championship.
In hindsight the Cork win over Clare shouldn’t have come as such a surprise given that their form in 2012 was significantly better than the Banner’s. Their injury list suggested they could not take Clare down but their strength in depth shone through. Justin McCarthy’s famous line about Cork hurlers being like mushrooms, springing up overnight, never rang truer with the unheralded Seamus Harnedy putting in a man of the match performance. Cork played some of the most intelligent hurling of the year against Clare, mixing up their game, out thinking and out fighting Clare all over the pitch.
In a true team performance against Clare Brian Murphy stood out at the back, man marking Tony Kelly and keeping him to just a single score, while lining out at the unfamiliar centre back position (at least at Inter-county level). He unfortunately misses out through injury this Sunday. In a game that will be won by a score or two the absence of the Bride Rovers defender could prove decisive. Lorcan McLoughlin & Pa Cronin return from injury and the skipper, Cronin, will provide Anthony Nash with another big ball winner in the half forward line. I don’t really like seeing goalies come a long way from their goal to take frees, but in Nash Cork have one of the best long range free takers in the game at the moment.
Cork and Limerick adopt a similar style of play, playing reasonably direct ball wherever possible and only falling back on the short passing game when in trouble. Their work rate all over the field was phenomenal and was notably better than their opponents in the semi finals. Richie McCarthy at the edge of the square will have his hands full and will have to replicate his outstanding performance against Tipp to keep tabs on the inside Cork line. There’s little to suggest in his performances in the past eighteen months that he won’t be able to rise to the occasion.
Limerick will be desperate for success given their lengthy wait for Munster glory. The long run in to this big occasion will test John Allen’s famed man management skills. Cork always leave the impression that they feel like they belong on the big stage, regardless of underage pedigree, such is the attitude The Rebels exhibit. There’s very little between the teams and it may well come down to who has the better day; Horgan or Hannon.