Hurling and camogie

Limerick v Cork: To ask for more feels like gluttony. But we'll ask anyway

Limerick's Pat Ryan (26) celebrates his clinching goal with Peter Casey. Picture by Seamus Loughran
From Cahair O'Kane at Croke Park

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Limerick 3-32 Cork 2-31 (AET)

IT’S not human, this. None of it.

Clare and Galway made it through 26 hours as producing the game of the season, and by 6pm yesterday it wasn’t even the game of the weekend.

Cork scored 2-31 in an All-Ireland semi-final and lost it. But then Limerick did all the hurling.

They were the side that had to, just like Clare before them. Galway and Cork might be the market leaders on talent, but if the weekend taught us anything, it’s that it sometimes just isn’t enough on its own.

With 61 minutes gone, it looked like the Rebels were about to cut loose and banish last year’s demons. Darragh Fitzgibbon’s score to make it 1-26 to 1-20 had the cut of an endgame about it. Limerick were caught up the field and Charleville’s RoadRunner had half a field to stroll into and score.

But Shane Dowling was just starting. Sprung for Seamus Flanagan on 56 minutes, he’d go on to score 1-4, winning the penalty himself, and cause general anarchy at the heart of the Rebels’ defence.

Three Aaron Gillane frees and a Kyle Hayes effort across a four-minute spell gave the game a transfusion, just when it seemed ready for the line to go flat.

The gap was down to two. Then one. Then nothing at all. Dowling and Gillane, the second off Peter Casey’s fine work and his own ability to squeeze into space like an invertebrate.

In their excitement they left the back door ajar, and Robbie O’Flynn did the right thing in squaring to Seamus Harnedy. He does the right thing in stepping back inside Nickie Quaid, but by the time he winds his hurl, the sliotar’s been whipped off it.

If Limerick win an All-Ireland, that moment best be near the head of the scripture.

The whole place was near ready to spontaneously combust when Pat Ryan was fouled by Damien Cahalane, giving Gillane the chance to make it seven points in a row and give Limerick a one-point lead deep into stoppage time. He didn’t miss.

But nor did Pat Horgan when Anthony Nash brilliantly picked out Conor Lehane, who won a soft enough free in the context. But nobody minded too much. Another 20 minutes? Please.

Suppose we best rewind a bit. The entire first 70 were gripping. Seamus Harnedy, not fully fit, was still Cork’s one real physical outlet on their own ball in the first half.

Off that, Daniel Kearney was able to spring, promoting himself as chief thorn in Limerick’s side. He hit three points and in the whirlpool, it’d be harsh to lose the perspective that Cork lost him, Fitzgibbon and Harnedy – their three best players – all to injuries new or existing.

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Gearóid Hegarty was bullying Eoin Cadogan, and when he wasn’t doing that he was outsmarting him, and that gave Limerick their own link. Graeme Mulcahy whizzed around the place, sometimes profiting off little more than scraps, while Aaron Gillane gave Colm Spillane holy terror.

Twice in the first half, Gillane took the ball over Spillane’s head. Twice he lost his hurl as he turned for one. The boots let him down, kicking the first over and the second well wide.

It was John Kiely’s side that set the pace but Cork caught them up inside 20 minutes. From there, it always seemed to be the Rebels with their heads dipped first. At 0-11 all, they had the best goal chance up until that point, but Nickie Quaid got his paddle out to turn Shane Kingston’s powerful drive over the bar.

A trademark line cut from Mark Coleman and a Daniel Kearney effort helped Cork lead by 0-14 to 0-12 in stoppage time, before Limerick fashioned a goal out of very little.

Séamus Flanagan fought his way into a dead end but, from the corner, had the vision to lift his head and drop the ball into Cian Lynch’s run. Anthony Nash advances, and there are red bodies around, but the head is cool and the finish is crisp. Limerick have done all the hurling and yet they’re felt fortunate to lead.

They looked inseparable for 20 minutes on the restart until four Patrick Horgan frees took Cork to 0-23, with Mulcahy and Gillane interjecting but the gap now at three.

Eighteen minutes from time, Dan Morrissey doesn’t get the flight of a puckout. Conor Lehane reads the mistake. Away like a rocket, and the ball comes off his hurl at the speed of light. Quaid doesn’t see it until it’s past him.

He points again to make it a six-point game, and the law of averages suggests that we’ve had our fill now, to go home and be happy. But Limerick aren’t having that.

Dowling is introduced and fifteen minutes later, we’re getting another helping of extra-time.

Limerick’s bench ultimately won them the game. They got 2-6 off theirs and Peter Casey had a big impact without scoring, while Cork brought Daniel Kearney and Shane Kingston back on after withdrawing them, and brought Michael Cahalane on twice inside six minutes.

In a funny way, the end of normal time seemed to let some of the air out of it. Just the five scores in the first period of extra-time, three for Limerick, with Patrick Horgan trying a couple of frees from halfway out the North Circular Road that killed time and momentum both.

Gillane should have had his goal, this time with hurl intact, but without realising the time he had, he blazed over when slipped through by Dowling.

Five edgy minutes passed before the game took its inexorable turn. Dowling again, reading the break in behind and driving straight. Mark Ellis fouls him, and after a look to the line for guidance, the Na Piarsaigh man laces into the top corner. Crossed the 21’ as he’s doing it. Nobody notices. Nobody cares.

Barely 90 seconds go by and it’s over. Pat Ryan knows he has Cahalane if he gets inside. Pokes the ball into space. That’s the easy bit. The coolness to deftly lob Nash and get the ball back down to nestle in the net, it’s the classy ending it all deserved.

Conor Lehane flicked home in stoppage time but the red hue had fallen off Croke Park, displaced by the blue of the seats they’d left behind.

The sun’s hung about for two solid months and the hurling has outshone even it. To ask for more feels like gluttony. But we’ll ask anyway.

Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English; D Byrnes (0-1f), D Hannon, D Morrissey; D O’Donovan (0-1), C Lynch (1-1); G Hegarty (0-3), K Hayes (0-1), T Morrissey (0-1); A Gillane (0-13, 0-7f), S Flanagan (0-1), G Mulcahy (0-4)
Subs: P Casey for T Morrissey (50), S Dowling (1-4, 1-0pen, 0-1f) for Flanagan (56), P Ryan (1-0) for Mulcahy (63), W O’Donoghue for O’Donovan (70), S Hickey for Byrnes (76), B Nash (0-1) for Gillane (85), D Reidy (0-1) for Hannon (87)
Yellow cards: K Hayes (79), R English (89)

Cork: A Nash; S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Spillane; C Joyce (0-1), E Cadogan, M Coleman (0-2, 0-1 line ball); B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon (0-4); D Kearney (0-3), S Harnedy (0-2), L Meade (0-1); S Kingston (0-3), C Lehane (2-3), P Horgan (0-11, 0-10f)
Subs: R O’Flynn for Kingston (55), M Ellis for Kearney (60), T O’Mahony for Meade (64), M Cahalane for Cadogan (70), D Kearney for M Cahalane (start of ET), M Cahalane for Harnedy (76), S Kingston for Fitzgibbon (77), J O’Connor (0-1) for Kearney (84)
Yellow cards: S O’Donoghue (33), B Cooper (44), C Joyce (65), M Ellis (84)

Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow)

Attendance: 71,073

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