It's the Munster final up next for All-Ireland champions Limerick as a one-point win over Cork in a packed TUS Gaelic Grounds kept alive the Treaty men’s hopes of landing a fourth Liam MacCarthy Cup in-a-row, and put them into their fifth consecutive provincial final.
The sides were level at half-time – 2-12 to 0-18 – with Limerick’s goals coming through Cathal O’Neill and Seamus Flanagan before John Kiely’s men pulled away in the second half, and despite a late Cork fightback, the Shannonsiders held on to set up a Munster final showdown with the Banner in a fortnight - a repeat of last year's epic final.
A Diarmaid Byrnes penalty eight minutes into the second half boosted Limerick's momentum with six points in-a-row then giving the Treaty men a seven-point lead heading into the final quarter.
In the aftermath of Limerick’s draw with Tipperary in Thurles seven days ago, John Kiely said it was "proper championship stuff now" – and the Treaty manager was spot on in his analysis of this must-win clash for both sides, with 40,847 packed into the sun-drenched Ennis Road venue in this winner takes all Munster SHC tie.
Over the course of the 70 minutes, it was a victory that was probably just about deserved, and there weren't too many who would have gambled against that outcome when Limerick reeled off six points in in-a-row between the 45th minute and the 58th minute to put seven between the sides heading into the final 12 minutes.
The Rebels however, boosted by a Patrick Horgan goal 10 minutes from time, brought it back to a one-point game after scoring six of the next nine scores, but it was the All-Ireland champions who showed their experience and composure thereafter to hold on for the narrowest of winning margins.
Cork settled the nerves after three minutes when Declan Dalton slotted over a free from inside his own half after Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan hit two early Limerick wides.
By the time Tim O’Mahony hit Cork’s second point, Limerick had hit four wides inside five minutes.
The champions were ahead for the first time by the 10th minute after four points without response for Kiely’s men with Gearóid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey, Darragh O’Donovan, and William O’Donoghue quickly making it a two-point game.
The sides were level for the second time midway through the opening half at 0-7 apiece, before Pat Ryan’s side scored four in-a-row in the space of just three minutes to open up a four-point lead by the 19th minute.
A wonderful Peter Casey point, who had found himself in space, stopped the rot for Limerick and both sides exchanged further points before the game’s opening goal.
The ever-impressive Gillane rose highest above the Cork defence, catching a superb high long ball from Kyle Hayes, before laying off to the incoming Seamus Flanagan. The lively Feohanagh-Castlemahon full forward didn’t have time to think before blasting to the Cork net to raise the game’s first green flag, and to draw the sides level for the third time.
Seamus Flanagan blasts from close range for the opening goal.— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) May 28, 2023
Limerick needed it after good Cork momentum. Highlights from 9.30pm on #sundaygame
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The visitors responded well and grabbed the next two scores with Patrick Horgan – his fourth point of the afternoon – and Robert Downey giving the Rebels a two-point advantage yet again.
Five minutes before half time, Gillane, who certainly brushed up on soccer skills during the winter months with Creeves Celtic, looked like he had scored Limerick’s second goal. However, his kicked effort hit off the post much to the delight of the stranded Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins, though a second goal duly arrived a minute later.
Will O’Donoghue, surrounded by a swarm of Cork defenders, did superbly well to flick the ball into the path of Cathal O’Neill. Finding himself in plenty of space, the Crecora man gave Collins no chance to put Limerick a point ahead.
The Cork defence is torn to pieces as Cathal O'Neill gets through to find the net. Limerick lead, Cork had been on top. The best thing is we have another half to come.— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) May 28, 2023
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Cork’s first wide came in the 20th minute when Seamus Harnedy’s effort from out on the touchline drifted just wide of the post. Limerick had five wides by this stage of the game.
After the restart, both Hannon and Byrnes, followed by Horgan and Darragh Fitzgibbon exchanged points before Cork captain Sean O’Donoghue was adjudged to have fouled Gillane in front of the Rebels’ goal.
Up stepped Byrnes to score the resulting penalty and put four between the two sides.
With just 10 minutes remaining, Limerick reeled off six without response from Cork before Horgan gave the visitors a glimmer of hope with a low drilled goal into the corner.
Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid got a hurley to it but the ball somehow managed to scrabble over the line to give Cork a much-needed lifeline.
Cork scored the next three points with Horgan adding to his already impressive tally of 1-9 with two points, either side of a Fitzgibbon point from play, to make it a one-point game yet again.
Limerick, who finished the game with 15 wides and 12 different scorers, compared to just seven wides from Cork, went toe to toe with Cork in the final five minutes to secure the one-point victory.
And with Waterford pulling off a remarkable result in Thurles to overcome Liam Cahill’s Tipp with six points to spare, it was Limerick who joined the Banner in a what will be repeat of last year’s Munster final.
Limerick: Nickie Quaid; Mike Casey, Dan Morrissey, Barry Nash (0-01); Diarmaid Byrnes (1-04, 1-0 penalty, 0-1 '65), Declan Hannon (capt.) (0-01), Kyle Hayes (0-01); Darragh O'Donovan (0-03), William O'Donoghue (0-01); Gearóid Hegarty (0-03), Cathal O'Neill (1-00), Tom Morrissey (0-02); Aaron Gillane (0-05, 0-2f), Seamus Flanagan (1-03), Peter Casey (0-01)
Subs: Richie English for Hannon (54 minutes), David Reidy for O’Neill (57 minutes), Colin Coughlan for Mike Casey, Graeme Mulcahy for Peter Casey (both 65 minutes), Cian Lynch for O’Donovan (67 minutes)
Cork: Patrick Collins; Niall O’Leary, Damien Cahalane, Sean O’Donoghue (capt.); Ger Millerick, Ciarán Joyce, Robert Downey (0-01); Brian Roche, Luke Meade (0-01); Tim O’Mahony (0-01), Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-04), Declan Dalton (0-03, 0-02f; Shane Kingston (0-02), Patrick Horgan (1-14, 0-11f), Seamus Harnedy (0-04)
Subs: Brian Hayes for Roche (39 minutes), Conor Lehane for O’Mahony (57 minutes), Padraig Power for Kingston (58 minutes), Ethan Twomey for Meade (59 minutes)
Referee: James Owens (Wexford)