An equalising injury-time goal from left half-forward Brian Phelan denied Cork the laurels they always appeared to have in safe-keeping.
Phelan’s terrific life-saving 62nd minute strike climaxed a magnificent second-half comeback by a Kilkenny side that looked like being annihilated early on and seemed to be on a hiding to nothing when Cork opened up a massive 13-point lead after the restart.
To surrender such a huge lead and to be eventually caught at the post was a real heartbreak for Cork but tremendous credit must be given to Kilkenny for how they clawed their way back.
They did so against all the odds with typical Kilkenny passion and fervour and but for the absolute brilliance of Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash, the Cats might have even gone one better. Nash was incredible, making some electrifying saves, as Kilkenny put their survival operation in place. As Cork wilted in the face of Kilkenny’s controlled aggression and began to see their lead whittled away, Nash brought off a series of stunning, acrobatic saves, some of the finest witnessed at the hallowed stadium for many a day.
Kilkenny goalkeeper Richard O’Neill also made some splendid saves in the first-half when Cork ruled the roost and looked head and shoulders over their opponents. But for O’Neill’s contribution, the game as a contest would have been over at half-time.
After Kilkenny spurned a golden opportunity of a dream start when centre-forward Peter Cleere shot badly wide from in front of goal in the opening minute, Cork took control with the strong wind and driving rain at their backs. Wing-back Dessie Fitzgerald and full-forward Rory Doherty were most impressive as Cork displayed some deft touches, hurling skilfully and confidently.
After the outstanding O’Neill had denied Doherty and Seamus Hayes with two super saves from close range, the Ballincollig full-forward got a vital touch to a high-lobbing ball from John Russell to propel Cork into a 1-5 to 0-1 lead after the opening quarter.
Kilkenny managed to score just one point from play in the first-half as a vastly superior Cork side ran rough-shod over them and some fine long-range points from frees by Fitzgerald handsomely contributed to Cork’s 1-8 to 0-3 interval lead.
It looked all over within minutes of the resumption. First, wing-forward John Russell hit a cracker of a goal after receiving from Barry O’Dwyer. Then Fitzgerald followed with two points from frees. Cork, on 2-10 to 0-3, looked to have set sail for home.
But, Kilkenny, following the switch of team captain David Buggy and the promptings of corner-forward Michael Grace, suddenly found a new lease of life. Amazingly, Cork only managed to score one further point - a strike from Doherty in the 50th minute.
Undeterred by the trojan efforts of Nash to thwart them, a resurgent Kilkenny side kept plugging away as Cork visibly began to tire and were forced to play second fiddle. The big gap between them began to grow narrower and narrower with every passing moment and there were seven points in it when Kilkenny finally got their first goal in the 56th minute, following a fabulous snapshot from the edge of the square by substitute Eddie Walsh.
Team captain Buggy, unerring in his free-taking, left a goal between them a minute from the end of normal time. The fat was now really sizzling in the pan as Kilkenny fought to level matters and Cork struggled to stay afloat.
It looked as if Kilkenny would finally succumb when a great attempt for the equaliser by Ritchie Power hurtled across the face of the goal. But, at the death, Kilkenny’s perseverance prevailed when Brian Phelan struck home the all-important goal after a 65 from centre-back John Costello landed midst a cluster of bodies.
The replay takes place on Sunday week in Thurles.
: Cork: R. Doherty 1-2, J. Russell 1-1, D. Fitzgerald 0-5 (0-3 frees, 0-1 65), S. Hayes, E. Conway, D. Dineen (free) 0-1 each. Kilkenny: B. Phelan 1-1, E. Walsh 1-0, D. Buggy 0-5 (0-2 frees, 0-1 65), C. Herity 0-3 (0-2 65s), P.J. Corcoran, M. Grace 0-1 each.
: A. Nash; J. Crowley, L. Hayes, R. McCarthy; B. Walsh, T. Lordan, D. Fitzgerald; T. Healy, J. Olden; J. Russell, D. Dineen, B. O’Dwyer; E. Conway, R. Doherty, S. Hayes. Subs: P. Dineen for Olden, B. O’Driscoll for Crowley.
: R. O’Neill; C. O’Neill, S. Lanigan, P. Costello; J. Tennyson, J. Costello, J. O’Neill; R. Power, C. Herity; D. Buggy, P. Cleere, B. Phelan; M. Grace, J. Power, D. Mackey. Subs: E. Walsh for Cleere, J.P. Corcoran for Mackey, S. Kelly for C. O’Neill.
: S. Roche (Tipperary).