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fans return Limerick leave room for improvement in Munster SHC semi-final win over Cork

Limerick 2-22 Cork 1-17

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Jack O'Connor of Cork in action against Declan Hannon of Limerick during the Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jack O'Connor of Cork in action against Declan Hannon of Limerick during the Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jack O'Connor of Cork in action against Declan Hannon of Limerick during the Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

On a day when the hurling championship exploded to life, with a shock Dublin win over Galway and Wexford and Kilkenny going to extra-time, it might have been unreasonable to expect Cork to cause further melodrama.

They squared up to the All-Ireland champions in Thurles, with a small crowd of 2,400 sprinkled around Semple Stadium offering a glimpse of a better future, but Limerick won while leaving ominous room for improvement.

Goals were the only feasible route to a Cork victory even though the county’s record in this fixture since the Treaty’s resurgence has been healthy.

In 2018 they drew with Limerick in the Munster Championship in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and beat them in the Gaelic Grounds the following year.

The 2018 All-Ireland semi-final flipped Limerick’s way, won after extra-time, Cork having blown a six-point lead with eight minutes left.

Indeed, the point has been made that over 70 minutes, Limerick last defeated Cork in the championship in 2013.

None of that was being pushed as a persuasive argument in favour of an upset but it wouldn’t have done Cork players any harm to know it was there in the back catalogue.

If goals were their way to a famous victory over the All-Ireland champions their league returns were encouraging if hardly conclusive or convincing either. They hit 18 goals, with the caveat that seven came against Westmeath; Galway was the nearest goal challenger with 12. Limerick had just four.

But instead Limerick scored two goals to Cork’s one — what chance had Cork of winning then?

If the Limerick points total was uncharacteristically on the low side, by their standards at least, then it is partly explained by a feast of wides, 20 in total while Cork hit 15 and also missed a penalty, with the taker Patrick Horgan having his effort saved. He finished the match having failed to score from play.

Last year Limerick hit the net in only one of their five championship matches and blitzed teams with points. Here they hit Cork with two goals that were demoralising by arriving in first half injury-time. In no time Cork went from level to six points behind and were chasing the game.

Limerick, playing with the wind, started more authoritatively and led for the early stages, dominating play and winning frees in their inside forward line.

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Jack O'Connor of Cork makes a run at goal during the Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jack O'Connor of Cork makes a run at goal during the Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jack O'Connor of Cork makes a run at goal during the Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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Three from Aaron Gillane helped them to a 0-4 to 0-2 lead by the 12th minute but the match had changed course by the first water break after a 15th minute goal from Shane Kingston.

Defender Niall O’Leary made a telling contribution with his attacking run and the score fired up Cork and strengthened their belief.

A terrific Jack O’Connor point followed, to leave them 1-3 to 0-4 in front at the water break. Their goalkeeper Patrick Collins varied his puck outs, not leaning on the short option as much as when the counties met in the league a month ago.

They were fortunate when Cian Lynch, who became a big influence as the half progressed, flashed a group shot just wide in the 19th minute after a brilliant flick by Mark Coleman stopped Gearóid Hegarty in his tracks.

Seamus Harnedy pulled a ball out of the sky in the 20th minute and scored a fine point and at that stage, with Cork two points in front, they were well in the match.

But Cork couldn’t sustain it. Harnedy was taken off and Conor Cahalane, one of three newcomers, also failed to last the full distance.

The Limerick finishing was also erratic, with Hegarty and Tom Morrissey failing to score in the first half and Morrissey substituted later, while Gillane didn’t register from play.

But that was all made inconsequential when Limerick blasted home two goals in first half injury-time to take a 2-10 to 1-17 interval lead.

Lynch set up the first for midfielder Darragh O’Donovan whose shot went in via a deflection off Sean O’Donoghue, a score that open up a three point lead.

Cork were still reeling from that concession when Gillane fed the ball to Kyle Hayes, who cut inside and delivered a low shot to the far corner of the Cork goal.

Cork were also left to rue the missed penalty in the 25th minute when Horgan’s shot was saved by Nickie Quaid.

The award came after Conor Cahalane was upended by Peter Casey after making a darting run, Casey receiving a yellow card, Limerick’s fifth of the first half, and then sent to the sin bin.

A goal would have pushed Cork’s lead out to five points with a numerical advantage for ten minutes but instead the save lifted Limerick and proved a portent of things to come.

Limerick signalled their intent with a storming run and point within seconds of the start of the second half from William O’Donoghue and by the water break they were six points head, the last score from Hegarty who intercepted a Cork puck out, having scored his first point just six minutes before. Cork hadn’t relinquished hope but Limerick’s defence was resolute and stubborn with Sean Finn outstanding.

Yet with ten minutes left there were only four points in it and Limerick were not playing like champions, leaving Cork in the match. From there to the finish it was a battle but Limerick had the stronger finishing kick. Cork didn’t help their causes with a spate of wides, allowing Limerick off the hook.

They face Tipperary or Clare in the final on July 18 where they will be looking to win their first Munster treble since the Mackey era in the 1930s.

Scorers — Limerick: A Gillane 0-6 (6f); D O’Donovan, K Hayes 1-0 each; C Lynch, D Byrnes (f), P Casey 0-3; S Flanagan, G Hegarty 0-2, W O’Donoghue, G Mulcahy, D Reidy 0-1. Cork: P Horgan 0-5 (5f); S Kingston 1-1; J O’Connor, D Fitzgibbon 0-3; S Barrett 0-2; S Harnedy, R O’Flynn, T O’Mahony 0-1.

Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, R English, B Nash; D Byrnes, D Hannon, K Hayes; W O’Donoghue, D O’Donovan; G Hegarty, C Lynch, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, P Casey. Subs: C Boylan for T Morrissey (46); D Morrissey for Nash (56); G Mulcahy for Flanagan (57); D Reidy for Hegarty (64); P Ryan for Gillane (66).

Cork: P Collins; S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, N O’Leary; T O’Mahony, M Coleman, E Cadogan; D Fitzgibbon, G Mellerick; R O’Flynn, S Harnedy, C Cahalane; S Kingston, P Horgan, J O’Connor. Subs: S Barrett for C Cahalane (44); L Meade for Harnedy (50); S O’Leary-Hayes for O’Leary (51); A Cadogan for O’Flynn (55); A Connolly for Kingston (69).

Referee: P O’Dowd (Carlow).

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