Football Football
Horse Racing Horse Racing
Cricket Cricket
Basketball Basketball
Golf Golf

Shane Stapleton: Cork v Limerick preview

10 May | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: Cork v Limerick preview
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Shane Stapleton looks ahead to this weekend's Munster Senior Hurling Championship game between Cork and Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Supposing Cork are such a dangerous animal, you would have to ask why they find themselves backed into a corner once again.

Or whether they would be facing the possibility of a fifth successive championship defeat in a row against Limerick, which would actually constitute more than 20% of the latter’s historical victories in this rivalry.

There is no doubting the hurling quality within Pat Ryan’s panel but, like the several managers before him, getting it out of them to produce a consistent summer side has become an unscalable wall.

Defeat to Limerick would end Cork’s interest in this year’s championship with a game left to play, and complete a run of 20 years without capturing the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Truth be told, they haven’t tended to do well when cornered.

This is already, by some distance, their most barren run in terms of claiming a national title, and you also have to go back to 1998 for their most recent league success.

Given the strong return of silverware at Under-20 level in recent seasons, there is a sense that they could take over at senior level if they could just make that initial breakthrough. Trusting more of those young guns might be a start.

The parallels between the defeats in this Munster championship with shortcomings over the past 20 years are clear for all to see. Too often they lose tight games, or find ways to implode.

In the opener against Waterford, they relied heavily on too many of the experienced men — as we had warned about in this column — and the same chickens of previous failures came home to roost. They had to chase the game, a red card proved costly, and a bad refereeing decision gifted the Deise a black card-penalty at a key stage.

Ryan changed the team around for the visit of Clare but once more an experienced player — captain Sean O’Donoghue — was dismissed when two points in front and it opened the door for The Banner.

If there is one team in the country that needs no invitation, it is John Kiely’s Limerick. They have sunk the knife into the Leesiders all too often in recent seasons, and the scar tissue will be obvious should the visitors press ahead.

Cork need to go at Limerick, but what does that mean? If you’re Kilkenny, isolating a ball-winner such as TJ Reid or Eoin Cody inside can prove fruitful with a delivery that is 50-50 or better. If it’s a high ball claimed over a defender close to goal, you’d expect a three-pointer to follow.

Go through that Cork team and while they have players who can get out in front to — Patrick Horgan, Shane Barrett, Alan Connolly — perhaps only Seamus Harnedy possesses that ability to snap an apple over a defender inside the square, but he will be operating further out the pitch.

When a ball is played low in front of a forward to collect coming away from the posts, a route to goal is less obvious In fact, it is quite difficult to threaten the net in these situations, albeit Connolly has the athleticism to do this on occasion.

Bottom line, Cork must run at Limerick out the field. It involves being patient on the ball, riding tackles and recycling, keeping their heads up, and then burning through a gap when it opens up. Right up the guts of Kiely’s team.

Look at recent seasons: in the 2021 All-Ireland final, Patrick Collins arrowed a lovely puckout to Luke Meade inside his own half after three minutes, and it was worked around patiently by a host of players including O’Donoghue, Tom O’Mahony, Eoin Cadogan, Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon.

The lattermost slipped a handpassed to Shane Kingston was who haring into the Treaty half, and he motored past Sean Finn before rolfing home close to goal. 

Jump ahead to 2022 to the Munster clash at Pairc Ui Chaoimh when the Rebels won the throw-in, Shane Barrett transferred a ball onto Conor Cahalane who straightened to go down the middle, and he fed Kingston for a very similar finish to the previous green flag mentioned.

What these instances tell us is that Cork have a threat, but they need to retain the ball patiently before picking their moment to inject pace. No team in the country can keep with The Rebels when it comes to straight-line speed, but their challenge is realising when it’s on.

Moreover, when it’s not, they must avoid going down the long-ball route on more than a very occasional basis. In that All-Ireland final three years ago, a dispirited Cork eventually lumped high balls onto the Limerick giants and the scoreline got uglier and uglier.

Interestingly, the Treaty have had a consistent goal threat this season, while the Rebels have been opening their own back door all too frequently.

In their two games so far, Ryan’s men allowed Waterford and Clare in for a combined eight clear sights at the nets — with five converted. Limerick let The Banner and Tipp in for seven between them, with just one sending an umpire towards the green flag.

Cork have nailed just four of ten goal openings from two games, compared with five of eight for Limerick, and it all suggests we could see Collins and Nickie Quaid both tested this weekend. Considering a high score in this game could be worth considering; the line is at 54.5 points, and the five most recent championship clashes have produced 56.6.

What we tend to see is scoring bursts from the reigning champions. From well behind, Limerick went on a run of 3-5 to 0-1 from minutes 54 to 66, and against Tipp their purple patch was 2-7 to 0-2 from minutes 45 to 54.

If — and most likely, when — this happens to Cork, will they have the composure to ride out the storm? Without centre-back Ciaran Joyce, they have had to rejig their back-line and it presents a further challenge.

Cork to lead at half time and Limerick by full time is 5/1, with the Rebels to be eliminated before their final outing.


Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.

Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.