Cork scraped through to the All-Ireland SHC semi-finals, winning by 0-19 to 0-18 in Thurles this afternoon after a thorough test of their credentials from Limerick.
The All-Ireland champions edged this dour battle, thanks mainly to accurate shooting of Ben O’Connor and Joe Deane (0-05 each).
The Rebels weathered an early storm to go in at the break with a 0-11 to 0-06 buffer.
Inspired by Niall Moran (0-04), Limerick hit five points in a row to close the gap to a single point by the hour mark. But Deane pointed a penalty and late points from O’Connor and Niall McCarthy kept Cork’s three-in-a-row bid on track.
Gunning for their twelfth consecutive championship win, Cork looked the more complete side in the first half with the fit-again Jerry O’Connor controlling midfield alongside Tom Kenny.
Limerick opened well, going point for point with the favourites until the latter stages of the opening half.
Deane batted over three frees and the rejuvenated Neil Ronan, who was clearly relishing his first SHC start since 2002, fired over three points from play to send John Allen’s side in at the break with a five-point advantage.
A beautiful point from Kenny in the 32nd-minute bridged the gap to five. Limerick should have been closer – they were far too reliant on Andrew O’Shaughnessy who notched three of their opening six scores.
Many of the 34,202 present would have expected a cakewalk for the champions in the second half but as the drizzly rain turned into a heavy downpour, Limerick upped their game and Cork were left scrambling for points at the finish.
Ben O’Connor’s second point of the afternoon initially gave his side a double scores lead within ninety seconds of the restart. Niall Moran replied from 40 yards out, then Deane worked Jerry O’Connor in for a score while O’Shaughnessy converted a free.
Limerick centre forward Mike O’Brien, revelling in the rain, increased his influence with a memorable point, but with Deane and Ben O’Connor ever willing, and Ronan Curran in command at centre- back, Cork seemingly held the aces.
What followed was rather unexpected but five Limerick points on the bounce at least made a game of it. It was off-the-cuff stuff and O’Brien, Moran and substitute Pat Tobin helped ignite a revival from the Shannonsiders.
Tobin (0-02), Conor Fitzgerald and Moran (0-02) were all on target as Limerick pared the gap down to one – 0-15 to 0-14 – by the 59th-minute.
Cork had an ideal chance to reply but Deane swept a right-sided free to the left and wide. The pressure only intensified when Ben O’Connor was wayward with another free.
Allen sprung Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) off the bench and the Cork supporters drew breath when O’Connor rediscovered his form with a huge free – that was the Rebels’ first point for 12 minutes.
Damien Reale was then adjudged to have brought down Brian Corcoran for a 64th-minute penalty. Drama followed when Diarmuid O’Sullivan, with a goal clearly on his mind, trudged forward to take it, but Limerick players surrounded 'the Rock' when they spotted that he would be trying to use a different sliothar - visible in the back of his shorts - for the penalty.
When referee Eamonn Morris had calmed matters down, O'Sullivan had retreated back down the field and Deane was the one to step forward and flash the original ball over the bar.
The sides went point-for-point in the closing few minutes and Cork closed the deal as driven points from Ben O'Connor and McCarthy cancelled out a late brace from Mark Keane and O'Brien.
Cork: D Og Cusack; P Mulcahy (capt), D O'Sullivan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Og O hAilpin; T Kenny (0-02), J O'Connor (0-01); T McCarthy, N McCarthy (0-02), N Ronan (0-03); B O'Connor (0-05) (2f)), B Corcoran (0-01), J Deane (0-05 (3f, 1 pen)).
Subs used: K Murphy (Sarsfields) for T McCarthy (62 mins)
Limerick: B Murray; D Reale, S Lucey, S Hickey; O Moran, B Geary, M Foley (0-01 (1f)); B Foley, D Ryan; N Moran (0-04), M O'Brien (0-02), TJ Ryan (capt) (0-01); A O'Shaughnessy (0-05 (4f)), B Begley, C Fitzgerald (0-02).
Subs used: D O'Grady for D Ryan (half-time), P Tobin (0-02) for Begley (44 mins), M Keane (0-01) for B Foley (70).
Referee: Eamonn Morris (Dublin).