By Martin Breheny
Cork 1-20, Limerick 3-11
The gloom has lifted from Cork hurling. Without a championship win over any of their major rivals since 1992, Cork went into last Sunday’s Munster first-round clash with Limerick in apprehensive mood but emerged from the Gaelic Grounds talking of winning the Guinness All-Ireland title.
It was the day Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s young rebels finally proved that they could outgun far more experienced opponents. Not only that, but they did it with a style and precision, which sent out a clear message that Cork hurling is back at the top table.
The final scoreline flattered Limerick, who got in for two goals in injury time to cut the deficit to 3 points. A few minutes, earlier it had been a yawning 8 points as Cork put on a second-half show that delighted their supporters in the crowd of 34,480.
It was a strange game in many ways. Cork galloped into a 3-point lead after 4 minutes but found themselves 5 points behind, 1-7 to 0-5, by the 25th minute after Barry Foley had outpaced the defense to flick the ball past Ger Cunningham for a great goal.
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Cork, the reigning League champions, faced their first major test of character and they responded in style. Alan Browne kicked a goal and by halftime Cork had regained the lead, 1-8 to 1-7.
Limerick led by 1-9 to 1-8 by the 40th minute, but then came a truly amazing 27-minute blitz by Cork during which they outscored Limerick by 0-11 to 0-2.
Seanie McGrath, Joe Deane and Sean O’Farrell scored some wonderful points from all angles and distance as Limerick crumbled. It was sheer magic by Cork. They were yards faster to the ball, their striking was crisp and accurate and, most of all, there was a hunger in their game which Limerick could never match.
It really was a bridge too far for a Limerick team that has been hurling at the highest level for the last five seasons. Some of the trusted faces looked tired on Sunday, in contrast to Cork’s lively youngsters, who appeared as if they could run all day.
Limerick took the grim look off the scoreline with injury-time goals from Shane O’Neill and James Moran, but time ran out on them. Indeed, time probably ran out for several of them in championship terms as there is likely to be a massive surgery to the side before next year’s campaign. Cork, meanwhile, move on to Thurles on Sunday fortnight for a clash with the defending all-Ireland champions, Clare. It has all the ingredients to be the game of the year.
Kilkenny 4-23, Dublin 0-14
Reports of the demise of Kilkenny hurling were proven to be hopelessly misguided at Parnell Park on Sunday, where they overwhelmed Dublin in a truly amazing second half.
Kilkenny led by 1-9 to 0-11 at halftime and Dublin looked to be in with every chance as they had hurled with great conviction in the opening half. However, they scored just 3 points in the second half as Kilkenny moved up a gear.
Kilkenny won the second half by 3-14 to 0-3, making Dublin look like junior players in the process. D.J. Carey helped himself to 1-8 before going off with 18 minutes to go. Niall Maloney chipped in with 1-3 and Brian McEvoy got 1-1 on a day when Kilkenny underlined their status as a genuine championship force.
Carey, who retired earlier this season, made a great comeback. His first-half goal was true wizardry, winning possession before skipping around a defender to drive the ball to the Dublin net.
Carey’s former Kilkenny colleague, Eamonn Morrissey, tried hard to lift Dublin but lacked support up front on a day when Kilkenny fired out a warning that they will be very strong contenders not only for the Leinster title but also for all-Ireland honors.
Louth 3-14, Wicklow 1-11
Louth hit a truly golden patch immediately after halftime to destroy Wicklow’s challenge in the Leinster quarterfinal clash at Drogheda last Sunday.
Wicklow, who missed a penalty in the 11th minute, trailed by 1-3 to 0-4, having played against the wind. Louth looked set for a very difficult second half but it never materialized. Instead, they ripped the heart out of Wicklow’s challenge in the opening 12 minutes of the second half, during which they scored 2-5 without reply, the goals coming from Stefan White and Aaron Hoey.
Wicklow were devastated and were on a pride-restoration mission from there on. A goal by Darren Coffey and some good points gave the scoreline a better look for Wicklow, but Louth, for whom Colin Kelly scored 1-5, sailed comfortably into the Leinster semifinal, where they will meet Meath on June 28.
Derry 3-13, Monaghan 0-11
Monaghan captain Eddie Murphy was sent off for an off-the-ball foul in the 10th minute and from there on it was all very easy for Derry in the Ulster quarterfinal clash in Celtic Park, Derry.
Derry led by 3 points when Murphy was dismissed, and once Derry got numerical advantage, they didn’t take long to squeeze the championship life out of Monaghan.
Goals by Eamonn Buns and Joe Cassidy gave them an interval lead of 2-7 to 0-5 and put them well on their way to a semifinal game against either Armagh or Down on June 28.
Sligo 0-14, London 1-7
Sligo got an early scare but regained their balance in time to dismiss London’s challenge in the opening round of the Connacht football championship in Ruislip.
An early goal by Paul Coggins gave London great hope and they held the lead until the 24th minute, when Sligo drew level. Sligo led by 0-8 to 1-3 at halftime, and while London hung on right throughout the second half, Sligo, for whom Sean Davey scored five points, always looked likely winners.
Tipperary 1-16, Waterford 0-7
Tipperary raced to the easiest of wins over Waterford in the Munster football championship tie in Clonmel last Saturday evening. Tipperary led by 0-8 to 0-3 at the interval, and while Waterford battled hard, they couldn’t match their lively opponents, for whom Declan Browne scored 9 points.
The only downside for Tipperary came in the form of John Costelloe’s dismissal. He was sent off after 20 minutes, making him doubtful for the Munster semifinal tie against Clare on June 28.