Frantic endgame sees Cork hand Limerick a rare championship defeat

Cork score a goal and a point in the final two minutes of stoppage time to stun the All-Ireland champions

Cork 3-28 Limerick 3-26

You never saw anything like this. First impressions can be intoxicating and unreliable, but this game will forever stand up to the corrosion of second thoughts. Forget everything you heard about great games in the past; cancel the mythology: a better hurling game than this is unimaginable.

With their season ticking towards midnight Cork came up with a goal and a point in the last two minutes of stoppage time and having come from eight points down to lead by four, the All-Ireland champions suffered their first championship defeat in more than a year. It was breathless and spellbinding and fierce and relentless and at times it was delirious. Maybe this is what it’s like at a rave. You tell me.

Everyone in the crowd of 41,670 was swept along. At the final whistle thousands of young Cork fans flooded the pitch. Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen boomed over the public address. It was just a group match and the outcome only keeps Cork alive until they play Tipperary in another must-win game in Semple Stadium on Sunday. The heckling arithmetic, though, couldn’t intrude on the euphoria.

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“I am sick of coming in here and talking about hollow victories,” said Pat Ryan. “We have had a lot of those games over the last two years. Tonight we showed great heart to get over the line against a savage team that never say die. Even though we were seven or eight points up we knew that they would come back at us. We answered a lot of their scores when they got them.”


For Limerick, it will be a cause for reflection. Having been hurled up a stick for the first half they gradually gained control after half-time, and like so often in the past came up with telling in-game solutions. They shut down the spaces in their defence that Cork had exploited in the first half and their front-foot press started to yield turnovers in the Cork half.

The energy of the game changed and when Limerick hit the front with 13 minutes left it seemed like there would be only one result. Cork, though, refused to wilt. Their resilience and stomach for the fight has been questioned many times in recent years, but standing on the scaffold, with their heads in a noose, they came up with five of the last six scores.

The goal that put Cork in front, two minutes into stoppage time, was created by Shane Kingston who gathered possession on halfway after Limerick’s final score was followed by a lightning puck-out. In John Kiely’s opinion the re-start was far too quick and shouldn’t have been allowed to stand, but Kingston took off and ran about 60 metres before Kyle Hayes dragged him down for a black-card penalty. Patrick Horgan buried it.

With so much pace in their team, running at Limerick was a central plank of Cork’s plan. Creating the space in which to do so required some engineering. Contrary to established best practice against Limerick they repeatedly went long with their puck-outs and, in the first half especially, consistently came up with the ball.

Cork played three inside and they stayed so close to the endline on re-starts that the gap between Limerick’s full-backs and half-backs was far greater than usual. Seamus Harnedy and Shane Barrett, who were both outstanding, ran amok in that space until Limerick eventually imposed restrictions.

In a game with 60 scores and nearly 80 shots Limerick ultimately couldn’t stop the bleeding. The 3-28 they shipped was the most they have conceded in a championship match on John Kiely’s watch, exceeding the 1-30 Cork scored against them a year ago.

“We were poor in the first half,” said Kiely. “We have to put our hands up and say Cork were by far the better team in the first half. We struggled on breaking ball, we struggled on puck outs. Cork created a lot of scoring chances and probably should have been more up at half-time. Being eight down at half-time, there was a chance. We’ve been in that situation before. We had every confidence in ourselves to turn it around.”

Cork led by 2-15 to 1-10 at the break after an explosive first half. Harnedy struck for Cork’s first goal after just five minutes, taking a pass from Barrett. The sequence was reversed for Cork’s second goal, seven minutes before the break, when Harnedy made a brilliant catch from a puck-out and fed Barrett, flying on his outside.

Only a minute earlier Limerick had struck for their first goal. Aaron Gillane picked off a loose pass and committed a couple of Cork defenders before squaring the ball to Seamus Flanagan who produced a swift finish.

Flanagan’s Limerick career was ignited in this fixture on a Saturday night six years ago and he was terrific again. His two second half goals, one of which came from another expensive turnover just outside the Cork 20 metre line, looked like they had turned the game in Limerick’s favour once and for all.

Somehow, though, Cork escaped. The madness continues.

Cork: P Collins; N O’Leary, E Downey, S O’Donoghue; T O’Mahony, R Downey, M Coleman; E Twomey (0-1), D Fitzgibbon (0-5); D Dalton (0-2, two frees) S Harnedy (1-2), S Barrett (1-2); P Horgan (1-11, 10 frees, one pen) A Connolly (0-2), B Hayes (0-2). Subs: D Cahalane for E Downey (23 mins), B Roche for Twomey (57 mins), G Mellerick for Coleman (61 mins), S Kingston (0-1) for Dalton (62 mins), T O’Connell for R Downey (66 mins).

Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, B Nash; D Byrnes (0-2, two frees), D Hannon, K Hayes (0-1); W O’Donoghue, C O’Neill (0-3); G Hegarty (0-4), C Lynch (0-1), T Morrissey (0-2); A Gillane (0-7, seven frees), S Flanagan (3-2), D Reidy (0-1). Subs: F O’Connor (0-1) for Finn (35+2 mins), A English (0-1) for Reidy (50 mins), C Boylan for T Morrissey (61 mins), A O’Connor for Hannon (68 mins), Ó Dalaigh for Gillane (70 mins).

Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin).

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times