Limerick fell in the League for the third successive time after being beaten by Cork.
Limerick will enter into the fourth round of the National Hurling League looking for a first victory for the second successive year after losing to Cork on Sunday.
In truth, Limerick were well off the pace of the Rebels in the TUS Gaelic Grounds, falling to a 2-19 to 1-13 defeat which could have been worse with the visitors leading by fourteen at the half.
Limerick hit back with the only goal of the second half but the result was never in real doubt after Shane Kingston’s double in the first half.
Limerick now head to Ennis on Sunday where they will take on Clare in their penultimate game of the League.
It isn’t quite panic stations yet for the All-Ireland champions who are still favourites to make it three in a row but there are some worrying trends.
Ahead of the Cusack Park clash, below are some kneejerk reactions form the Cork game.
Peter Casey’s presence badly missed
Much of the talk heading into the game was the return to the side of Cian Lynch who hadn’t featured for Limerick so far this year owing to his Fitzgibbon Cup commitments. The Hurler of the Year was well marshalled in his return as Cork learned from his mesmeric performance in their last meeting.
Instead, it was the absence of another player that was far too evident for Limerick. When these sides met in Croke Park last August, Peter Casey had clipped over five scores inside 25 minutes and looked on course for one of the great All-Ireland final performances.
But injury stripped us of that, with Casey needing surgery on his knee after suffering a nasty looking injury prior to the half time whistle. The Na Piarsaigh man’s return date is unknown but none have looked capable of replacing the All-Star at corner forward.
A constant outlet for the Limerick defence and midfield, his presence in the corner was badly missed once more on Sunday and who will fill the Shannonsider’s no.15 jersey come championship remains a mystery.
Number 15 dilemma
Continuing on from that point regarding Peter Casye’s replacement, nobody as of yet in this League campaign has put their hand up as the Na Piarsaigh’s mans replacement. David Reidy has started each game in the corner but the Dromin Athlacca star is clearly more of a wing forward. Pat Ryan had two shots in the position but failed to fire either time. Darren O’Connell started there against Cork but was whipped off at half time.
Adam English looks to be a starter in the future but this year may be too much too soon for the Doon man. Graeme Mulcahy had a score off the bench on Sunday and looks the obvious replacement. However, the Kilmallock man was late returning tot he set up after helping his club to the Munster final and will probably need a couple of games to get up to speed.
Kiely could also have something different up his sleeve for the championship with his decision to redeploy Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes in 2020 proving a masterstroke.
Could we see one of the vaunted wing forward line move forward? It remains to be seen but it is an issue currently for the side.
Cork lay down a marker
The Gaelic Grounds has become somewhat of a happy hunting ground for Cork over the past couple of years with some excellent results. Last year, the Rebels were put to the sword in the League but that game aside, Cork have won in their last three League and championship trips to Limerick.
In 2019, they beat the newly crowned All-Ireland champions in the League before following that up with victory in the first round of the Munster championship.
However, Sunday’s win seemed more significant as they went some way to banishing the memories of last year’s All-Ireland final drubbing. Cork was far more clever with and without the ball, not allowing Limerick’s forwards space to flourish and making the most of their possessions.
Cork, like Limerick last August, did their work in the first half before entering into cruise control for the second. The win made it three in a row for the Rebels who have won six out of seven since losing to Limerick in the Munster Championship last June, their only other loss coming against the Shannonsiders in August.
The Rebels seem to now be the firm favourites to dethrone Limerick and when these sides meet in the first round of Munster this April, expect fireworks.
Importance of Ennis
Playing Clare in Ennis will never not be a big game for Limerick. But Sunday’s tie takes on even more meaning when you consider Limerick’s current position. The championship is only seven weeks away and Limerick are without a League win. Sunday will provide the chance at some well needed momentum and no better place to get it.
The Treaty side traveled there in late January where they captured the Munster Hurling Cup with ease with a largely second string side. But things have quickly gone the other way in the meantime. These players need a confidence boosting win and one in Cusack Park will be the perfect tonic.
However, a loss could be detrimental to their year with only Offaly left for Kiely and co in the League before the start of the provincial championship.
Likewise, a win for Clare could do wonders for their year with Limerick traveling there in May also. A must win game for both, only one can come away from the grounds happy.