Just when you thought this hurling summer could spoil us no more, the youngsters from Tipperary and Cork go and produce a most incredible finish to the last ever All-Ireland U21 final.
With the second-half having dragged its feet for long periods, neither side appearing capable of landing a decisive blow, Tipperary’s Stephen Nolan, out of nowhere, planted the sliotar in the Cork net six minutes from time — the scoreboard now reading 2-12 to 1-12 in favour of the Premier county.
At this juncture in their Munster final meeting, the Tipperary players were yearning for the final whistle to arrive, Cork digging the knife further into their opponents with each passing minute.
That evening in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Tipperary finished 13 points adrift of their hosts. They were every bit as poor as the 2-23 to 1-13 scoreline suggested. It was a result which would have broken many a team, particularly one so young. Instead, Tipperary dictated the terms of engagement yesterday, ignored the July 4 result and showed zero respect to the litany of Cork seniors who were supposed to backbone the Rebels’ challenge. That the household names in the Cork team were so anonymous was testament to the hunger which Tipperary brought to the table.
Where Cork expected it to happen for them, Tipperary went and made it so.
As the bell sounded for the final lap, though, Liam Cahill’s charges were unable to safeguard their three-point lead.
Declan Dalton nailed his fifth free of the decider. Mark Coleman fed substitute Brian Turnbull, the latter making his first appearance for the Cork U21s this campaign, and the deficit was back to the minimum. Robert Byrne gifted Cork the equaliser when being so careless in possession as he charged out of defence. O’Mahony was fouled, Dalton on hand to punish the mistake.
Robbie O’Flynn engineered an opportunity to nudge Cork back in front, but was off-target. It would have been somewhat fitting had he done so such was his display after being cast as a third midfielder following Tipperary’s blistering start. As well as knocking over three points, the Erin’s Own player was to be found on his own end-line at one stage in the second-half, clearing the danger after ‘keeper Ger Collins fumbled possession.
Tim O’Mahony did finally send the favourites into the lead a minute and a half into the five minutes of second-half stoppages allotted. Six of the last seven scores had been thrown over by a hurler wearing red. A 20-year famine looked to have but a few minutes left to run.
A turnover deep in the Cork defence. Tipperary sub Conor Stakelum snaps up possession. Head down and off he sets towards Ger Collins’ goal. He has a man free inside should he choose to use him. The Thurles Sarsfields hurler stays going. The sliotar falls from his grasp and despite the presence of four Cork players, they are powerless to prevent it crossing the white paint. A member of the Cork management hunks down in devastation.
Another sub, David Gleeson, splits the posts in the subsequent play. Game over. July 4 may as well have been played in a different century it seems so long ago now. Cork’s drought extends to a 21st year.
For Tipperary, glorious redemption. A summer rescued. A first U21 crown since 2010. Their 10th overall. A second All-Ireland underage title for Liam Cahill and most of this group.
After 14 minutes of the Munster final, Cork led 1-5 to 0-1. After 14 minutes yesterday, Tipperary led 1-5 to 0-1. Angled deliveries into Jake Morris, Mark Kehoe and Cian Darcy were causing the Cork full-back line plenty of bother. Morris and Darcy both sniped a pair of points during their opening spell of supremacy, with Kehoe fouled for the penalty which Morris converted.
They’d also been presented with an early penalty in the Munster final. On that occasion, Ger Collins had been equal to the shot. Not here. This game was not even a second-cousin of that provincial decider.
Cork eventually arrived at the pace of proceedings and reeled off 1-6 without reply as the winners went 14 minutes without a score.
Conor Cahalane, a late call-up to the starting team instead of Ger Millerick, was responsible for two white flags during this period. The younger brother of Damien also provided the Cork goal, a superb individual effort where he carried possession from the 45-metre line in.
Denis Ring’s charges led 1-9 to 1-7 at the break, a scoreline they’d have been relatively content with given they were well below previous outings.
They dozed off again, mind you, early in the second half as Colin English, Morris (free) and Darcy put the Premier back in the ascendancy.
Cork, though far too reliant on Declan Dalton’s placed-ball accuracy and the industry of Conor Cahalane and Robbie O’Flynn, could have won it. Not enough around them, however, stepped up.
Tipperary, for never once accepting the game was beyond them, deserved it. They were twice level after this.
J Morris (1-4, 0-3 frees, 1-0 pen); J Cahill (0-3); S Nolan, C Stakelum (1-0 each); C Darcy (0-2); P Feehan, C English, D Gleeson, G Browne (0-1 each).
C Cahalane (1-3); D Dalton (0-5, 0-5 frees); R O’Flynn (0-3); D Fitzgibbon, S Kingston, J O’Connor, B Turnbull, T O’Mahony (0-1 each).
B Hogan (Kiladangan); K O’Dwyer (Killenaule), B McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney), E Connolly (Cashel King Cormacs); P Campion (Drom-Inch), R Byrne (Portroe), D Quirke (Clonoulty-Rossmore); S Nolan (Drom-Inch), G Browne (Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams); P Feehan (Killenaule), J Cahill (Kilruane MacDonaghs), C English (Fr Sheehy’s); C Darcy (Kilruane MacDonaghs), M Kehoe (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), J Morris (Nenagh Éire Óg).
C Stakelum (Thurles Sarsfields) for Feehan (29 mins); D Gleeson (Ballinahinch) for Darcy (41); C Morgan (Kilruane MacDonaghs) for O’Dwyer (49, inj); P Cadell (JK Brackens) for Campion (52); L Fairbrother (JK Brackens) for English (60).
G Collins (Ballinhassig); N O’Leary (Castlelyons), D Griffin (Carrigaline), D Lowney (Clonakilty); E Murphy (Sarsfields), M Coleman (Blarney), B Hennessy (St Finbarr’s); C Cahalane (St Finbarr’s), D Fitzgibbon (Charleville); R O’Flynn (Erin’s Own), S Kingston (Douglas), D Dalton (Fr O’Neill’s); L Healy (Sarsfields), T O’Mahony (Newtownshandrum), J O’Connor (Sarsfields).
B Turnbull (Douglas) for Healy (38 mins); G Millerick (Fr O’Neill’s) for O’Connor (57).
J Keenan (Wicklow).