Dramatic weekend sums up this crazy year of hurling

Two epic semi-finals see Cork crash out as Galway and Clare prepare for a replay

Galway’s Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney tangle with Patrick O’Connor and Jack Browne of Clare during their All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Galway’s Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney tangle with Patrick O’Connor and Jack Browne of Clare during their All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

What was your favourite moment? Do take a minute now, no hurry at all. There had never been extra-time in an All-Ireland hurling semi-final in the history of the GAA before Saturday and then we got two in the space of a weekend. In that context, nobody’s going to push you too hard for a definitive answer.

Top of the head, here’s 10 picked at random. Nickie Quaid’s flick. Conor Lehane’s goal. Pat Ryan’s goal. Peter Duggan’s point. Cathal Mannion’s block. Joe Canning’s sideline cut. Tony Kelly’s sideline cut. Mark Coleman’s sideline cut. Shane Dowling’s penalty. Tony Kelly’s tap-down for Colm Galvin’s point.

Or maybe you just want numbers. Two games, two draws in normal time, four periods of extra-time. Just shy of 200 minutes played, 82 players used, a grand total of 7-123 scored. Teams level 25 times. Nine Hawkeye calls, all into the Hill 16 goal. Seven Níl, two Tá, since you ask. A nice round 125,264 punters through the gates across the two days.

It all adds up to an All-Ireland final date for Limerick in three weeks, their suitors as yet unknown. Galway and Clare will head to Thurles for their replay next Sunday, both of them playing their eighth game of a summer like there has never been. Whatever else we may be sure of come the end of it all, this year’s All-Ireland champions will have been stress-tested to breaking point.

Limerick weren’t just tested here yesterday – they had their soul x-rayed in front of a live studio audience. They were six points down in the 62nd minute and looking for all money like their race was run. But with Shane Dowling ablaze coming off the bench, they rattled off seven points in a row and left Cork needing a Patrick Horgan free in the fourth minute of stoppage time to stay alive.

In the end, Limerick found 2-6 off their bench, whereas the Cork subs could only contribute a point between them. In a game that ended with the ridiculous scoreline of 3-32 to 2-31, it was enough to tip the scales.

Limerick fans celebrate at the end of the game. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Limerick fans celebrate at the end of the game. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

“We needed to make a couple of adjustments and we needed to respond very quickly because the clock was running down,” said John Kiely afterwards. “Listen, our bench were phenomenal today. When the lads had emptied the tank and cramping and getting tired… We had to make changes that were difficult because we had players who played very well but we had to take a gamble that they had probably given their all.

“We made a few changes and managed to get a foothold on the Cork puck-out at that stage. And listen, the boys that went in won hard ball, they made hard runs and they took on the shots when they presented themselves. They clawed themselves back down to three and then clawed ourselves back to level.

“We got the leading score from the free and conceded a free then on the far side and fair play to Patrick Horgan – he is a superb free-taker and he got that off. It was incredible. An incredible game. We felt very happy going into extra-time because we had been through it so many times this year in games. Tipperary, Clare, in the league, the Munster league final we had been through it so it stood to us and we had the confidence from that when we had responded well.”

For Cork, it’s another promising summer that ends before they were done. When Lehane thundered into the game in the second half of normal time, it looked like a defining performance. He strapped Cork to his back and nailed 1-3 from play and between him and Horgan, whose free-taking was the usual money in the bank, it seemed like they would have enough to see it out.

But much like Galway the night before, they were shelling players to injury at an alarming rate. Seamus Harnedy never quite recovered from a first-half bang, Daniel Kearney ran his legs to stumps and limped off in agony in normal time, only to be patched up and prodded back into action for extra-time. They had nothing of the calibre of Dowling to bring in, they could only repair and repurpose and it just wasn’t enough.

“Yeah, it’s an understatement,” replied John Meyler when it was put to him that he must be gutted. “The fact we were six points up in the 62nd minute and failed to close out the game was a critical point. Their goal then with Cian Lynch, I don’t know was Kearney going down on the ball, we possibly could have got a foul there.

“You know, Limerick drove on and then you’d Peter Casey and Dowling came in – they made a huge contribution in terms of driving Limerick forward. I thought then going into extra-time when there was a point in it, but then the penalty killed us then and it put four between us. Again they drove on.

Galway’s Paul Killeen tackles Peter Duggan of Clare during their All-Ireland SHC semi-final clash at Croke Park. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Galway’s Paul Killeen tackles Peter Duggan of Clare during their All-Ireland SHC semi-final clash at Croke Park. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“Kearney’s contribution today was incredible. You’re trying to keep those. We’ve a lot of young fellas in the subs, Robbie [O’Flynn] 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 under-21 All-Ireland which would develop them.

“Limerick have more senior younger players if you know what I mean. They made that difference there. Look, that’s the gap. We came up short. I’m not making excuses, I’ve never made excuses.”

And so we beat on. A hurling season that keeps finding a higher note still has at least two games left to sing to us. Limerick have done their bit, Galway and Clare still have business to box off in Semple next weekend. Where else would you be?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the answer is Nickie Quaid’s flick/tackle on Séamus Harnedy, timed to the millisecond to save Limerick at the end of normal time. That was unspeakable. 

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