HomeFootballKinnerk’s influence gives Limerick the look of the original five-in-a-row winners

Kinnerk’s influence gives Limerick the look of the original five-in-a-row winners

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All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Limerick v Cork (Sunday, Croke Park, 4pm, live on RTÉ2 & BBC2 NI)

THERE were 22 minutes gone in the 2021 Munster semi-final when Peter Casey hauled Conor Cahalane to ground as he bore down on goal.

Casey was given a black card but Nickie Quaid saved the penalty from Patrick Horgan.

By the time Limerick were back up to the full 15, they’d added four points to their tally and Cork had nabbed just two.

Asked about it in the aftermath, John Kiely shipped the credit straight over to Paul Kinnerk.

“While I was thinking about it, he had it done and that’s what he’s really good at.

“He literally had it sorted within a second. He spotted straight away what needed to be done and he got it done.” It spoke to the relationship between manager and coach, that Kiely’s ego suffered no bruising from the absence of consultation.

But he knows what he has in Kinnerk.

In a rare interview with The42.ie’s How To Win At Dominoes podcast a few years back, the former Limerick footballer talked about his own transition as a coach towards a model based almost entirely around putting players’ decision-making to the test.

There are no drills for the sake of drills.

So much of it is game-based around different scenarios, a coaching trend that he’s helped set for others.

Kinnerk credited a lot of that to his exposure at University Limerick to Cian O’Neill, now coach to Padraic Joyce’s Galway, and Donie Buckley, whose influence on one-to-one defending everywhere he went was enormous.

Part of the challenge of beating Limerick is not just getting the better of them one-against-one on the field.

Cork’s sideline will have to get the better of Kiely and Kinnerk as well.

They did so in the group stage.

In a rip-roaring Saturday evening game that almost nobody saw on GAAGO, Cork’s tactical curveball was to keep their full-forward line right on the endline for their own puckouts.

That created a huge pocket of space that Limerick weren’t used to having behind them.

Of Cork’s 3-23 that night, 3-15 of it came off their own puckout.

And yet even though they lost and didn’t play well, Limerick were still leading that game late on until Shane Kingston flicked the ball over the head of Diarmuid Byrnes and got himself close enough to goal for Kyle Hayes’ drag down to be deemed a penalty. This time Horgan didn’t miss.

But now it becomes a game of double-bluff.

There is very little tactically that Limerick haven’t encountered in the last five years. Every time they’re challenged, they respond.

Cork should have beaten them in the epic 2018 All-Ireland semi-final, leading by six with eight minutes to play.

That was year two under Kiely and Kinnerk.

In their first season, Limerick had failed to win promotion from Division 1B and lost their Munster opener to Clare back when it was still straight knockout. Kilkenny put them out of their misery.

They scraped out of the new group stage in third the following year, hockeyed in Ennis on the final weekend, looking anything but a team that was about to take out a long-term lease on the throne.

Then they beat Kilkenny, scoring 0-24 of their 0-27 from play, and everything changed.

In the group game six weeks ago, Cork led by eight points coming up to half-time. Even from there, Limerick feel invincible.

When you’ve been five down in last year’s All-Ireland final and taken complete control, ten down to Tipperary twice in a couple of seasons and won, going on to snatch a draw from nine down against Clare – there is nothing they haven’t faced down.

It’s not even their own sense of what they are any more, it’s everyone else’s.

No team has stamped as loudly when they’re coming up behind you.

The closest natural comparison is the great Dublin football team that they’re trying to emulate by winning five-in-a-row.

You think back to the meetings with Mayo that always fell the same way, or the drawn 2019 All-Ireland football final where, down to 14 men, a point down and with Kerry in possession, the Dubs reached deep into their mental armoury and salvaged a draw.

That team never panicked, although they were in far fewer desperate positions than this Limerick team.

Even if there’s no substance to the idea, it can sometimes feel like they’re almost happy getting to sharpen their tools.

They’ve bullied hurling for five years.

What better way to reinforce dominance than by making a game out of hunting down prey that think they’ve run off with your dinner?

There is, on one hand, the concern that this is 2021 all over again and that the hope around Cork is false hope.

Instead of the gap closing between their Munster semi-final meeting and the All-Ireland decider, it expanded to the point where the Rebels were left to question everything about themselves.

Needing to win to stay alive last year, Cork lost by a point in the Gaelic Grounds and exited at the group stage.

That was seconds from happening again this year.

The controversial awarding of a last-gasp 65 with which Clare beat Waterford saved the skin of Pat Ryan’s side.

The championship is much the better for it. Cork will bring the Red Army up the road in their tens of thousands, packing out Croke Park for a semi-final, such a rarity these days.

Rightly or wrongly, there remains a feeling that if anyone can bring a bit of anarchy to unsettle Limerick, it is the Rebels.

Unsettle they might, but unseat?

Cork will be sitting there thinking about what Limerick are thinking, a powerful psychological weapon in itself.

They’ve caught them once this summer already. And if anyone has what it takes to catch them again, it’s Cork. They’re fearless and fast and frenetic.

Usually 35 minutes is enough for Paul Kinnerk to get a read on what the other man is holding, to delve into their bag of experiences and pull out a performance.

Limerick saw Cork’s hand eight weeks ago.

The stakes are raised but there’s no bluffing this dead-eyed winning machine.

Unless Cork have found another pocket pair of aces, they’ll fold in the end just like everyone else.

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