High-scoring west side story is one to sing loud about

If you’ve recovered, you may find time to place yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final between Limerick and Cork in the pantheon of great games.

High-scoring west side story is one to sing loud about

By Michael Moynihan

If you’ve recovered, you may find time to place yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final between Limerick and Cork in the pantheon of great games.

Your biggest challenge, though, may be deciding whether it was even the best All-Ireland semi-final of the weekend.

There was an odd preamble to yesterday’s Cork-Limerick game, with echoes from the previous evening’s epic still sounding, however faintly, along the approaches to Croke Park.

The breathless conclusion to Galway-Clare — breathless proceedings, to be more exact — left a pretty high standard for Cork and Limerick to reach.

Would it be as entertaining? Could it even come close?

By five o’clock, with Patrick Horgan standing over the long-distance free Cork needed to send the game to extra-time, the question no longer stood.

The scoreline from Saturday night didn’t even survive as a record for 24 hours: it finished 3-32 to 2-31. That is not a misprint.

On a weekend that burnished many reputations, Limerick emerged with the win, a place in the All-Ireland final, and their credentials heavily underlined.

Clearly they and Cork got the memo issued in Croke Park ahead of yesterday’s game in terms of entertainment.

Following Saturday night’s fever, they hit four points between them in the opening two-and-a-half minutes, a scoring rate in keeping with the quality of the weekend.

When the game settled, it was on Limerick’s terms.

The expectation ahead of time was that Cork, having reached the same stage of the championship last year, would have the edge in terms of experience, but Limerick clicked into their rhythm earlier.

This was particularly noticeable on puckouts.

Few goalkeepers trail a reputation for quarterbacking their sides through tight games like Anthony Nash, but Limerick refused to give the Cork keeper easy options.

They dropped individually 10m from their men to put doubt in Nash’s mind — not unlike Galway the previous evening when they troubled Clare’s Donal Tuohy early on.

On their own Limerick tried to work their size advantage in the half-forward line, creating the room for Aaron Gillane to turn Colm Spillane twice for goal chances, though the Patrickswell man came away with just one point from those opportunities.

Cork needed Seamus Harnedy to come into the game and he did, aided by Daniel Kearney.

They helped Cork take the initiative, the Munster champions pushing ahead until late on, when Cork led by two points.

Cian Lynch burst onto the scene a couple of years ago as a tearaway wing-forward but has since been remodelled as a midfield playmaker.

He showed the forward’s instincts haven’t been lost as he made up the ground to take a Seamus Flanagan pass and crashed home a good goal: 1-12 to 0-14 at the half. Cork shaded the proceedings for much of the second half, though Seamus Harnedy looked hindered by a knock, while Darragh Fitzgibbon also needed treatment more than once.

Losing Daniel Kearney didn’t help them either, but Conor Lehane had struck an arrow in at Nickie Quaid’s near side and Cork led by six points with the game turning into the final ten minutes.

That goal staggered Limerick — they lost the puckout over the line and hit a couple of wides — before their minds cleared and they refocused.

Driven by Aaron Gillane’s metronomic free-taking and captain Declan Hannon’s calm distribution, they reeled Cork in, slowly but surely.

Shane Dowling was just one of the Limerick substitutes who energised their challenge at just the right time.

With the time remaining, though, did Limerick need a goal to overhaul their opponents? Having been tested severely by Kilkenny in similar circumstances, they disagreed.

Limerick found sustenance in their plan, and hit the front deep in injury time — hence the need for Horgan to bring the game to extra-time.

In those extra 20 minutes there was only one team in it: Limerick got full value from their bench, with Shane Dowling winning and scoring a penalty, while Peter Casey’s deft flick, looping in under the Cork crossbar, made the game safe.

Cork’s late, late goal — did Jack O’Connor get a flick or was it a defender? — was academic. The men in green dominated the closing stages and were full value for their win.

“We were very confident in the dressing room,” said Limerick boss John Kiely of the mood at the end of normal time.

“We just needed to get organised, get at it and get out there. There was an early storm for the first five minutes and then the lads came on and took their chances.

"Once the second goal went in in injury time we had a six- or seven-point lead and we had the capacity to defend that for the most part, the clock was running down.

“So proud of the players because that five-point lead with ten minutes to go, it’s a fair challenge and they dug deep.”

John Meyler acknowledged the quality on the Limerick bench.

"When I saw (Peter) Casey coming on and (Shane) Dowling were coming on, I thought we were in the ascendancy at the time,” said the Cork manager.

“We were six up and we were going well. Then they came in and they added to Limerick. They’re decisions that are critical at this level and also the fact we didn’t close out the six-point lead.

“(Daniel) Kearney’s contribution today was incredible. You’re trying to keep those. We’ve a lot of young fellas in the subs, Robbie came on, Jack (O’Connor) came on, and Tim (O’Mahony), 21 years of age, they’ve a long way to go and please God they’ll win an U21 All-Ireland which would develop them.

"Limerick have more senior younger players if you know what I mean. They made that difference there.”

Limerick certainly have depth, and in the big show in three weeks’ time that could be significant. Before that they have plenty to work on in training — extra-time wouldn’t have been on the horizon only for an extraordinary save from Nickie Quaid to deny Seamus Harnedy a match-winning goal at the death.

Granted, a Quaid saving Limerick is a genetic imperative, but Kiely and his backroom won’t want the game to come down to a player having to defy the laws of physics to keep his team alive.

When Quaid somehow flicked that ball away, Limerick worked a free at the other end which Gillane pointed. A swing and a season saved.

For Cork an autumn of might-have-beens will loom large. Losing the lead they had in the closing stages will be the focus of many an off-season chat on Leeside, as Meyler mentioned.

So will the burning desire Limerick showed in extra-time to get over the line, not to mention the quality of their bench, contributing 2-6 of the winning total.

For all that they’ll also know how close they were to winning. Such are the margins.

An incredible weekend’s hurling was reduced to its basics yesterday evening. Before the extra 20 minutes were played the two teams huddled out on the field, for all to see: The confrontation reduced to its very essentials, the teams visible for the 71,073 in Croke Park to see.

Tired and cramping. Passionate and focused. When they trotted out to their positions the girders in the stadium shook with the ovation.

Are there any caveats? Do we dare adopt an Alan Hansen voice to query 62 scores on Saturday and 68 scores yesterday and ask whether defences, ah, covered themselves in glory?

Leave the nitpicking for a day or so.

Soak it up for a night or two because whoever comes through next Sunday to face Limerick in the All-Ireland final, it certainly won’t be all quiet on the western front.

The men in green had a final get-together out on the field before leaving for the dressing-room yesterday, and Dolores O’Riordan’s voice was ringing out over Croke Park.

They won’t want to let it fade.

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Hurling delirium, hurling overload, hurling snobbery, and a hurling documentary.

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