First Blood Cork, Cian Sheehan and Limited Scoring | Talking Points as Cork claim McGrath Cup title at Limerick’s expense

Cork were six-point winners in the McGrath Cup final in a reverse of the result from the decider two years previously.

Limerick’s hopes of preseason silverware were dashed by an impressive Cork unit in the McGrath Cup final last Friday evening in Mallow.

Ray Dempsey’s side can have few complaints about the result where the Rebels were the better team throughout in the 0-19 to 2-7 victory.

Limerick’s attention will quickly turn to Derry this Saturday as they end a lengthy wait for a return to the second tier of the League. Last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists will be hot favorites for the game which is somewhat of a free hit for Limerick.

However, in a month’s time, they will be on the road to Cork once more to take on the Leesiders in the fourth round of the league.

And with one meeting of the sides in the books, we look at the talking points to emerge from the McGrath Cup Final.

First blood Cork

Although it was only a preseason clash, the significance of the result will not be lost on anyone involved with Cork drawing first blood in the maiden meeting of the Munster rivals in 2023. For the first time since 2007, the sides will operate in the same division of the league and that will come to a head in the fourth round when Limerick travel to Leeside.

Limerick are back in the second tier after a fifteen-year wait while it is Cork’s third year in the division after a disastrous 2019 saw them relegated to division three. Last year, the Rebels escaped relegation with a final day win over Meath but their recent league form will see them as one of the favourites for the drop alongside newly promoted Limerick.

As such, both teams will be targeting the February 26 clash in Pairc Ui Chaoimh as a must win. In 2020, Limerick got the upperhand against the Rebels in the McGrath Cup final but since, Cork have proved best, in their qualifier clash last year and last Friday. It’s early doors and each team will have played three times before they meet again, but it is a psychological blow to Dempsey and co who will be seeking just a second win over Cork in twenty years next month.

12 June 2022; Jim Liston of Limerick in action against Mattie Taylor of Cork during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 2 match between between Cork and Limerick at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Blunt Limerick struggle for scores

While the margin of defeat was six in the end, the goals that Limerick got really put a gloss on the final result. Limerick kicked nine scores as opposed to nineteen for Cork. Goals do win games and Limerick’s kept them in the contest, but the gulf in actual scores is worrying for Limerick going forward.

Cork did score eight frees with Steven Sherlock continuing where he left off in 2022 but Limerick’s tally from placed balls was 1-4 with a number of opportunities left behind them. Frees aside, Cork outscored Limerick 0-11 to 1-3, eleven scores against four. The starting forwards contributed just 1-0 between them, in the form of Davy Lyons’ goal.

Centre back Iain Corbett had a glorious long-range effort which is always welcome as is Cillian Fahy’s scoring threat from midfield but substitute Robbie Bourke was the only other forward to score from play with each of Cian Sheehan’s efforts coming from frees.

Granted there were a number of orthodox defenders named in attack whose aim isn’t to put the ball over the bar but it was a glaring aspect of the contest.

Now the team did show against Waterford that they do know where the posts are as they kicked 4-14 in their first outing under Dempsey. But, the standard of opposition they face in the League will be far superior to the Deise with all due respect and Limerick need to rectify how they break down teams, starting with Derry this Saturday.

All-Star Cian Sheehan

One positive to come from the contest was Cian Sheehan’s ability over frees. The Newcastle West man kicked four placed balls, with half coming off his so-called weaker foot but with Sheehan, it’s clear there’s no weakness to his game. It is another notch in the belt of the All-Star nominee who could arguably consider himself as Limerick’s first choice free taker ahead of the league.

2 April 2022; Cian Sheehan of Limerick during the Allianz Football League Division 3 Final match between Louth and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Josh Ryan held that mantle in 2022 but with the Oola man out injured, this has shifted to Sheehan. Hugh Bourke was Limerick’s previous free taker but he like Ryan is currently sidelined with injury. Bourke is likely to feature sooner rather than later and could resume duties in the league. His brother Robbie is an accomplished free taker but his place in the starting XV isn’t guaranteed while Sheehan could consider himself the first name on the teamsheet.

Taking the frees is an added pressure for Sheehan who shoulders a heavy burden for Limerick following last year’s nomination but it doesn’t appear to have fazed him in the slightest as he prepares for a role further up the field in 2023 after his exploits at wing back last year.

Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see the Newcastle West man not only continue in the vein that saw him shortlisted among the 45-best in the country but also help his club to the Munster final. He is certainly one that Derry will be paying special attention to, but if he finds possession limited, then taking the frees could allow him grow into the game.

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