Cork 0-17 Kilkenny 0-9
THE defining image from Croke Park yesterday was the sight of disconsolate Kilkenny players – hidden from the throngs – respectfully waiting in the tunnel as their dreams of the three-in-a-row lay in ruins, while delirious Cork supporters proudly savoured the presentation of the Liam McCarthy Cup to Ben O’Connor.
Maybe not the expected result, but it was the predictable outcome from a disappointing Guinness All-Ireland final once Cork started to take control in the second half. Eventually finding their form, they overwhelmed the champions with a marvellous display of power hurling that was a tribute to the selectors and their players.
Pride was the prime motivating factor for Cork after the hurt of losing last year's final to Kilkenny. It was what sustained them through a challenging campaign that was dynamically regenerated by the win over Tipperary in Killarney and what drove them on to an acclaimed victory yesterday once they realised that it was within their grasp.
Among their many heroes on the team, Sean Óg O hAilpin gave another marvellous display of half-back play, Joe Deane and Brian Corcoran both played huge roles in the full-forward and substitute corner-back John Browne was a star when he took over from the unfortunate Brian Murphy after injury forced him off in the 25th minute. But, essentially this was a success for teamwork and for the character shown in storming back after a largely ineffective first-half display when the crafty Deane had two definite goal chances.
It was a first half largely dominated by defences and characterised by missed chances on both sides. Kilkenny had three wides inside two minutes and most crucial of all, Eddie Brennan wasted a goal chance from the first, when both himself and D.J. Carey ran on to a John Hoyne through ball.
Their wastage of chances was to seriously undermine their challenge to the point around the three-quarters stage when an almost total lack of penetration meant they were virtually powerless to halt Cork's momentum.
With the sides level twice in the opening 12 minutes, Cork quickly benefited from the early impact made by Sean Óg O hAilpin crucially against Henry Shefflin, who had a minimal impact on the right wing and in several other positions he was to fill.
At the other end, Tommy Walsh similarly hit a lot of ball and was generally on top against Timmy McCarthy.
Setting out to try and stymie Cork's running style of play, Kilkenny were largely successful through the support play of their backs, except that they conceded frees at stages. And, it was from placed balls by Joe Deane (three) and one from Ben O'Connor (whose accuracy wasn't the best this time) that Cork depended on for scores, before Brian Corcoran was to get their only one of the half from play in the 32nd minute.
Part of Cork's problem was that they were being bettered at midfield, where Derek Lyng was most prominent. Additionally, Ronan Curran wasn't very much involved and Ben O'Connor was making no headway against J.J. Delaney. Inside, the outlook looked more promising, with Corcoran proving a handful for Noel Hickey and Joe Deane posing all sorts of problems for Michael Kavanagh
Deane would have had a goal in the 13th minute but for hitting the crossbar. After that first let-off, Kilkenny achieved a significant improvement to open up a three points gap by the 23rd minute.
However after two quick scores from Ben O'Connor and Corcoran, Cork again promised a goal in injury time. The improving Gardiner hit in a long ball which James McGarry failed to gather and Deane, running in, put the ball just outside the post. At the break, it was 0-7 to 0-6 for Kilkenny.
Surprisingly, Kilkenny only managed to maintain a strong challenge for almost 15 minutes after the break. During this time they twice led Shefflin got the two scores, from a '65 and a close-in free, but remarkably they weren't to add to their total.
Niall McCarthy put over a marvellous equalising score, which he struck just as he lost his balance and fell and it seemed to inspire Cork. It certainly boosted the Carrigtwohill man's confidence and after Murphy edged Cork in front in the 39th minute, he put over another great long-range score. Thus, he banished a few ghosts remaining over from last year's final, just as the team itself was to achieve over the remaining 15 minutes, when Jerry O'Connor and Tom Kenny were seen at their best at midfield.
Donal Óg Cusack, again playing a vital role, came to their rescue in the 56th minute with a critical save on the line from Shefflin. Hoyne broke through, was bottled up before he scrambled a pass to Shefflin and he first-timed a low shot from close range. In different circumstances, a goal then might have changed the course of the game, but the save had the effect of consolidating Cork's grip.
Most of all, Corcoran, largely through his innate hurling skills, was to prove so effective that Hickey was taken off him. The driving force behind the 1999 victory over Kilkenny he capped an amazing comeback with a point from near the corner flag which D.J. Carey would have been proud of. And, not a player to show his emotions publicly, he fell to his knees and threw his arms up in the air to acclaim the crowd. For Corcoran, a courageous team and Cork hurling, it was the perfect way to celebrate going back on top in the Roll of Honour.
*Not the best refereeing performance from Aodhan MacSuibhne, who made a small number of mistakes on both sides.
Scores for Cork J. Deane 0-5 frees; N. McCarthy 0-3; B. O'Connor 0-3 frees; K. Murphy and B. Corcoran 0-2 each; T. Kenny and J. O'Connor 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 0-5 (0-3 frees, 0-1 '65); M. Comerford 0-2; J. Fitzpatrick and D. Lyng 0-1 each.
CORK: D. Og Cusack; W. Sherlock, D. O'Sullivan, B. Murphy; J. Gardiner, R. Curran, S. Og O hAilpin; T. Kenny, J. O'Connor; B. O'Connor (capt.), N. McCarthy, T. McCarthy; K. Murphy, B. Corcoran, J. Deane.
Sub: J. Browne for Murphy (injured 25th minute).
KILKENNY: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; T. Walsh, P. Barry, J.J. Delaney; D. Lyng; K. Coogan; H. Shefflin, J. Hoyne, D.J. Carey; J. Fitzpatrick, M. Comerford (capt.), E. Brennan.
Subs: C. Phelan for Fitzpatrick (57th minute); S. Dowling for Coogan (63rd).
Referee: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin).
A minute's silence was observed in memory of the victims of the Beslan siege in Russia and Richie Mullally, father of Kilkenny panelists Paddy and Richie Mullally, who died yesterday morning.