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Tuesday 23 October 2018

Hard to resist the balance of Limerick's multi-talented forward line

LINK MAN: Graeme Mulcahy scored three points in Limerick’s defeat of Kilkenny. Pic: Sportsfile
LINK MAN: Graeme Mulcahy scored three points in Limerick’s defeat of Kilkenny. Pic: Sportsfile

With teams of the obvious - but in an All-Ireland context, unproven - potential like this pair, recent signs of maturity have been hugely encouraging.

Cork won a brilliant Munster Championship this year with a team still containing a smattering of Under 21 players yet they kept the tone of their celebrations to that of serial winners.

Or a team with grander designs.

"There was that night, and that was it," explained Patrick Horgan this week.

"Fellas just realised … last year, we won it and then got beaten the next day, it counts for nothing then. The year was not what you wanted it to be.

"Fellas have knuckled down this year and just want to get the best out of themselves for the next day."

Meanwhile, it was harder to know which to admire more about Limerick's first Championship victory over Kilkenny since 1965: the spadework that put them in such a strong position or their gutsy, match-winning response to the inevitable Kilkenny fightback.

When John Donnelly fed Richie Hogan for a goal in the 65th minute in Thurles, Kilkenny had scored 1-2 without reply and pushed them into a two-point lead.

Bulk

Yet Limerick finished with a barnstorming 0-5 to Kilkenny's 0-1.

Most impressive was where the bulk of those scores came from.

John Kiely's starting half-forward line hit 0-10 between them from play while Graeme Mulcahy - named in the corner but actually the link man between the Limerick attack lines - scored three points off Paul Murphy.

Kiely was also able to bring in Shane Dowling (0-1) and Peter Casey (0-2) to supplement his attack with explosive forwards at a time in the game when the action was frenetic.

Impressive too was the Limerick players and management's lack of interest in their historical inability to beat Kilkenny in the Championship.

Many of their players hold All-Ireland Under 21 medals and there is a measured, thoughtful quality about the team that is a change from the last teams from the county to seriously contend for Liam MacCarthy.

The same with Cork, as Horgan stressed, when it was put to him that the Rebels' 13 years without an All-Ireland senior title was a burning issue.

"The players that are there now don't really care about that," he said. "I know it is a big thing for others, but when you're playing, none of that really matters.

"It is great to look back on in a couple of years and say, yeah, we did that, but for fellas there now, history doesn't mean much.

"Winning in 2004 and 2005 doesn't mean much to us. Winning in the '60s don't matter to us.

"We just have to get the best out of what we can get.

"Hopefully, obviously, we can win one. Are thinking about the history? I don't think we are."

"To win one would be unbelievable," he went on.

"The scoring thing, right now, it doesn't mean anything.

"It might be a good thing to look back on but it means nothing as regards the Limerick game coming up.

"If we can just put all our focus into that game and get the best result we can, get to the final and then hopefully, start thinking about All-Irelands and Cork are winning this and Cork are winning that.

"As of now, we've never won anything."

Terrible

Reigning Munster champions have had a terrible record in the All-Ireland semi-final stages over the last decade but the shortened lead-in time this year should help a Cork team, five of whom won a provincial Under 21 title just days after they came from behind to beat Clare in the senior decider.

To overcome an eight-point half-time deficit against a team with such energy and win despite the concession of a late consolation goal from Ian Galvin took some doing that day in Thurles.

Key to it all was the ball-winning abilities and 1-4 contribution from Seamus Harnedy, although grainy reports this week suggest he could be a doubt. His loss could swing it.

Cork have pace aplenty and no more welcoming stage to demonstrate it than Croke Park.

Limerick's half-back line, while all sweet ball strikers, isn't renowned for its collective marking abilities and that's where the likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon, Conor Lehane and Daniel Kearney can make hay tomorrow.

But there's something about the movement of Limerick's forward line and the balance between pace, ball-winning and scoring that is difficult to resist just now.

They've had their big, era-beginning win against Kilkenny already and a first All-Ireland final appearance since 2007 is there for the taking now.

ODDS: Cork 11/10, Draw 8/1, Limerick EVS

VERDICT: Limerick

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