By Joe Dooley
The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick will be a white-hot cauldron today with a sellout crowd of 44,000 expected (throw-in 4pm).
The last time Cork and Limerick contested a Munster final was 1992, with the Rebels coming out on top. Cork’s last Munster championship title win was in 2006, with Limerick’s back in 1996.
I expect both teams to be very determined, and with young fit sides and a hot day forecast, this has all the ingredients for a cracking game of hurling. The sod in the Gaelic grounds is amongst the very best for hurling in Ireland.
The pressure is probably a little more on Limerick as a result of having knocked out reigning Munster champions Tipperary.
They will go into the game as slight favourites.
Playing at home and in front of their own fanatical supporters who have always supported them through thick and thin should also be worth a couple of points.
However, Cork are a team that traditionally plays well away from home and will have big support too.
Dublin’s victories over the last two weekends will have given a lift to both Limerick and Cork, and whoever wins today will be only one game away from an All-Ireland final.
The championship was never so open and both these teams will want to go in the front door, not to mention the boost of having a Munster championship medal in their back pocket.
They are a scarce commodity in both panels.
"Cork will relish the underdog tag for the second game in a row"
Limerick could have won the Division 1B final against Dublin if they had taken their goal chances.
The main thing was that following the league they were in a good place physically and mentally for the championship. Their semi-final victory over Tipperary was a huge psychological fillip for this Limerick team, their first win in Munster in six years. It has to be a huge confidence boost.
Their superior hunger, drive and fitness were the main reasons for that victory, with John Allen throwing in good subs at vital times in the last 20 minutes who helped make the difference.
Richie McCarthy, Donal O’Grady and their half-back line of Paudie O’Brien, Wayne McNamara and Gavin O’Brien were outstanding. Nicky Quaid was also excellent in goal.
Cork will relish the underdog tag for the second game in a row and under Jimmy Barry Murphy’s rebuilding process they are coming along very well, despite the setback of losing a lot of players from last year for a variety of reasons.
They made light work of beating Clare in the semi-final, scoring 23 points from all angles and distances.
There is no better county than Cork to capitalise on an opportunity to win an All-Ireland, especially when the race is wide open. They will always have that self-belief in their own ability.
For the moment all they will be concentrating on is getting over Limerick on Sunday.
They are all fast and excellent ball players, but the ability of their forwards to win their fair share of primary possession is questionable, especially against strong defenders, and Limerick have a particularly strong half-back line.
The return of Lorcan McLoughlin and Pa Cronin following injury and illness will improve their ball-winning options and the performance of newcomer Seamus Harnedy against Clare was a tonic for Cork supporters.
Goalkeeper Anthony Nash is improving with every game and is fast becoming the Stephen Cluxton of hurling, getting on the scoresheet in most games.
On the downside, the loss of their most experienced defender Brian Murphy through injury is a big blow. He is their number one man-marker and has a lot of big-game experience.
This is a game that is very difficult to call, but if Limerick can reproduce the display they gave in the second half against Tipperary for a full 70 minutes and get their home support behind them, then I expect they will shade it.
Live television coverage of Cork v Limerick from 15:15 on Sunday 14 July on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only).
Live radio coverage of all the day’s action from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ RnaG and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).