Limerick are Munster champions again after beating Cork by 0-16 to 1-11 in a tense decider at the Gaelic Grounds.
Victory means that the terrific Treaty County are provincial champions in this grade for the eighth time in total and first since 2015. As well as capturing the coveted silverware tonight, they have also sealed an All-Ireland semi-final date with Galway on August 19th. Kilkenny and Derry will contest the other semi-final.
Playing into the strong wind in the second half, the winners went 20 minutes without a score and were left hanging on desperately against a determined Cork combination bidding to add the U21 crown to the U17, minor and senior Munster titles annexed earlier this month. The 2/9 favourites managed just five second-half points - four from frees - but it was enough.
Abandoning the sweeper system after the turnaround, the Rebels closed within two points with six minutes left, but they couldn't close the gap further and a couple of timely Aaron Gillane (0-6) frees helped Limerick over the line.
Despite not producing the same champagne hurling that saw off Tipperary and Clare, Limerick dug deep for a deserved win achieved in the face of tremendous adversity. In the end, John Meyler's men were left counting the cost of conceding the first seven points of the night.
The victors led by 0-11 to 1-4 at the end of a low-key but at times fierce first half, with seven different home players on target as they played with the wind at their backs for the opening half-hour. Cork's Tim O'Mahony improvised superbly to register the only goal of the game.
Ronan Lynch had the hosts ahead from a long-range free inside the opening minute after Cork full forward Robbie O'Flynn was harshly penalised for overcarrying and a simple Gillane free doubled the difference on three minutes. Six minutes later, the gap was three when visiting goalkeeper Patrick Collins got his hand to Thomas Grimes' looping effort but dropped the sliothar over the bar. Peter Casey's eighth-minute point made it 0-4 to no score.
With 11,774 in attendance, the early procession continued as points from Gillane and Lynch frees increased the gap to six and wing back Grimes notched his second from play - seven no score with 14 minutes gone. Shane Kington finally opened the Rebels' account with a superb strike at the midway stage in the opening period and O'Mahony followed up with their second after Barry Nash struck the left upright at the other end.
Kingston reduced the Rebel County arrears to four with ten minutes left before the break but Mike Mackey replied instantly. If the wild fist-pumping was anything to go by, the Treaty County were up for this and Nash duly floated over their ninth point before O'Mahony brought the game to life in the 26th minute when he cut inside from the left to cleverly bat a shot off the ground and past Eoghan McNamara to the Limerick net to halve the deficit - 0-9 to 1-3.
Mark Coleman - deployed as a sweeper in the first half - did brilliantly to pick Man of the Match Cian Lynch's pocket when the classy Limerick No.12 looked certain to stretch the gap but the favourites worked the ball to Casey and he calmly slotted his shot over, followed quickly by an excellent finish from captain and full forward Tom Morrissey as the home team moved five ahead again.
As the heavens briefly opened, the Leesiders lost a close-range free when centre forward Declan Dalton opted to prod Ryan in the ribs with the butt of his hurl and the Cork man could perhaps consider himself fortunate to escape with just a yellow card. But Cork still managed to plunder their fourth point via Michael O'Halloran to trail by just four at the short whistle.
Gillane smacked over a Limerick free to get the scoreboard moving again upon the restart and a crude late Eoghan Murphy hit on Nash presented Gillane with the easiest of finishes from a free in front of the posts before Rebel No.14 O'Flynn swept over an excellent point from way out close to the right sideline - 1-5 to 0-13.
Nash (with Limerick's only second-half point from play) swapped points with O'Halloran and we then had a long spell without any scores, the Shannonsiders remaining five ahead as we passed the three-quarters mark.
Dalton's 47th-minute free was followed by an inspirational long-range Coleman free as the Rebels closed ominously within three points with ten minutes left and the Treaty County having gone 13 minutes without a score… Gillane dragged a free to the right for their twelfth wide as the pressure started to show big time.
Another Dalton free moved the Rebels within two but Gillane's 57th-minute free finally presented Limerick with their first score in 20 minutes as they led by three once more with as many minutes left to play. There would also be three added minutes and Gillane struck the insurance point from a free in the first of these.
Coleman (free) closed the Rebels back within three with 70 seconds of the alloted injury time left and we witnessed a frenzied outburst of co-ordinated fist-pumping from the men in green as they won a late, late free-out that seemingly ruled out the possibility of a Cork equaliser. However, the game continued into the 65th minute and the Leesiders did come forward again and Kingston's shot flew inches over the bar. There was one more dangerous attack from the losers but the Treaty County held on for a famous win.
The pitch invasion after the final whistle was more than justified. Now, can this superb Limerick side go on to atone for their defeat in the 2014 All-Ireland MHC final?
Limerick - E McNamara; S Finn, D Fanning, D Joy; R Lynch (0-2, 2f), K Hayes, T Grimes (0-2); C Ryan, R Hanley; A Gillane, (0-6, 6f) M Mackey, (0-1), C Lynch; B Nash (0-2), P Casey (0-2), T Morrissey (0-1). Subs - P Ahern for Casey, C Boylan for Mackey, B Murphy for Morrissey, L Lyons for Hanley.
Cork - P Collins; D Griffin, E Murphy, J Cashman; S O'Donoghue, M Coleman (0-2, 2f), D Browne; D Lowney, P Leopold; C O'Leary, M O'Halloran (0-2), S Kingston (0-3); D Dalton (0-2), R O'Flynn (0-1), T O'Mahony (1-1). Subs - J O'Connor for O'Leary, D O'Neill for Lowney, J Looney for O'Mahony, C Cahalane for Cashman.
Ref - R McGann (Clare).