Cork 1-37 Kilkenny 1-32 AET
Empires rise and empires fall. Two of hurling’s oldest produced a spectacle in keeping with their grandest traditions in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park, which ebbed and flowed all the way into extra time.
It was an absorbing clash of styles with Cork’s shorter, running game played at pace and shrewdly blended with some more direct play, eventually scorching a pathway to a first All-Ireland final in eight years and with a display of substance and character exorcised the demons of recent semi-finals which were lost a little too compliantly.
But for Eoin Murphy in the Kilkenny goal, Cork could have had five goals, as he saved three times from Alan Cadogan, touched a Jack O’Connor shot onto the post and in extra time kept out Alan Connolly’s attempt to bat home a hand pass from Shane Kingston.
For the county it was a sweet redemption. Three years ago, they lost a six-point lead in the closing minutes of a semi-final against Limerick, who reeled them in point by point and beat them in extra time. Yesterday they blew a similar lead in almost exactly the same amount of time.
The critical difference was that all of their touted advantages came to fruition with a powerful surge in extra time that took them home.
The Leinster champions were ultimately unable to stay in touch, their fate sealed by a lack of panel depth that has increasingly bedevilled Brian Cody as his golden generation have one by one drifted into legend.
A stark indicator lay in the productivity of the benches: Cork got 0-11 from their replacements but Kilkenny managed just one, an extra-time point by Richie Hogan in itself a reminder of better days.
Leading the reinforcements’ charge was Kingston, dropped for the match - in one of the more difficult acts of selection for any manager - by his father Kieran. He came on in the 42nd minute and revolutionised Cork’s prospects. He ended up with seven from play having terrorised the opposition with his pace and accuracy.
Yet Kilkenny do not go down easily. By sheer force of will they extended the contest beyond 70 minutes. Trailing 0-28 to 0-22 in the 65th minute, they launched a typically Kilkenny rearguard action, chipping away at the deficit - a TJ Reid free from the North Circular Road, points from Eoin Cody and Adrian Mullen.
Jack O’Connor looked to have sealed it with a point in the 70th minute to restore three between them, 0-29 to 0-26. Still, there was more. Alan Connolly won a 65 in the 73rd minute but inexplicably Patrick Horgan - flawless up until then all afternoon - missed it. The scene was set.
Pádraig Walsh turned over Tim O’Mahony and got the ball into Mullen behind enemy lines. He still had a bit to do but made space and struck the ball into the net to the left of Patrick Collins. Level. Extra time.
It had been helter-skelter match. Cork’s advantages of pace and superior forwards weren’t felt for a long time, as Kilkenny stayed in front on the scoreboard for most of the first 60 minutes. Corner back Paddy Deegan was fortunate to see just yellow for a flick of the hurl that caught O’Mahony’s head in the 15th minute but in general their defence was coping.
At the other end they found space quite easily but Cork’s defence defiant as it was - Luke Meade getting back for an early block on Mullen - eventually became pressured. Billy Ryan gave Robert Downey a torrid time even though the full back recovered as the match progressed. TJ Reid, playing deeper, was influential and as productive off the tee as ever.
Their half backs were lively and adventurous, getting up for a point each from play in the first half and the teams went in just a point apart, Kilkenny 0-15 to 0-14.
As in the quarter-final two years ago, Horgan performed miracles during his team’s difficult period. His 10 first-half points included every free he took and four from play. It was all needed, as the team struggled to get their attack moving.
That lead extended to four, 0-19 to 0-15, by the time Kingston arrived and his presence became a significant part of a 10-point turnaround, secured by outscoring the Leinster champions by 0-13 to 0-3 in the 20 minutes up the 63rd.
Alan Cadogan also played a role, as he proved more robust in the face of Kilkenny’s marking and troubled them with his pace even though a goal-scoring touch deserted him when opportunities arose.
Kilkenny had the experience of beating Wexford in extra time and going into it this time they had the great momentum of having wiped out the lead but once Cork had re-adjusted they took over, their defenders too fast for incoming ball - corner backs Seán O’Donoghue and Niall O’Leary exceptionally good - whereas O’Mahony recovered from his costly error in normal time to play out the match in commanding form.
The dam effectively broke when O’Connor, having relocated to wing forward in the second half, burned off replacement Conor Delaney and - finally! - beat Murphy with a crisp shot just before the break in extra time. It quadrupled a one-point lead and left Kilkenny looking unmoored.
Cork piled on the pressure in the second half and O’Connor, Kingston and a resurgent Séamus Harnedy worked the scoreboard and there was no doubt about the outcome this time.
CORK: 1. Patrick Collins; 2. Niall O'Leary (0-1), 3. Robert Downey, 4. Seán O'Donoghue; 6. Mark Coleman (0-1), 7. Ger Mellerick, 5. Tim O'Mahony; 8. Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-1), 9. Luke Meade; 10. Conor Cahalane, 11. Séamus Harnedy (0-2), 12. Robbie O'Flynn (0-2); 13. Shane Barrett (0-1), 14. Patrick Horgan (capt; 0-15, 0-9 frees), 15 Jack O'Connor (1-3).
Subs: 19. Eoin Cadogan for Mellerick, 35 mins; 23. Shane Kingston (0-7) for Fitzgibbon, 42 mins; 24. Alan Cadogan (0-3) for Barrett, 47 mins; 21. Damian Cahalane for O’Flynn, 68 mins; 25. Alan Connolly for C Cahalane, 71 mins; 17. Sean O’Leary-Hayes for Coleman, 80 mins; 8. Darragh Fitzgibbon for Meade, 84 mins; 26. Declan Dalton (0-1) for O’Connor, 86 mins.
KILKENNY: 1. Eoin Murphy; 2. Tommy Walsh, 3. Huw Lawlor, 4. Paddy Deegan; 5. James Maher (0-1), 6. Pádraig Walsh (0-1), 7. Michael Carey (0-1); 8. Conor Fogarty (0-1), 9. Richie Reid (0-1); 10. Adrian Mullen (capt; 1-3), 14. TJ Reid (0-13, 0-9 frees, 0-3 65s), 11. John Donnelly; 13. Eoin Cody (0-4), 12. Billy Ryan (0-5), 15. Alan Murphy (0-1).
Subs: 22. Martin Keoghan for Donnelly, half-time; 21. Cillian Buckley for R Reid, 51 mins; 23. Walter Walsh for A Murphy, 52 mins; 24. James Bergin for Keoghan, 60 mins; 19. Conor Delaney for Carey, 71 mins; 25. Richie Hogan (0-1) for Cody, 81 mins; 11 Donnelly for Ryan, 88 mins; 9. R Reid for Maher (blood), 80-82 mins.
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).