Limerick edge Cork in 78-point epic to reach All-Ireland final
John Kiely’s side reel in their great rivals and roar clear in extra-time in Croke Park rain
Shane Dowling celebrates Limerick’s extra-time win over Cork in Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Cork 2-31 Limerick 3-32 (AET - 1-27 each after normal time)
Afterwards Dolores O’Riordan’s unforgettable voice was played out for Limerick people to sing as John Kiely spoke to the huddle.
The jaded, victorious huddle didn’t linger long on the field.
“Pure magic,” said Shane Dowling, the teenage prodigy now impact sub and match winner. “We are a passionate county - I ask the supporters to enjoy this but I do plead to let the players focus for the next three weeks. This time I don’t want to just get to the final to march behind the band, I want Limerick to go out and win it.”
There is almost too much to tell. On any normal year of hurling Cork had done what needs doing to reach an All-Ireland final.
This season will never be described as normal. If Dowling’s penalty deep into injury time in the second-half of extra time didn’t seal it then Pat Ryan’s lofted goal, Limerick’s third, finally allowed them to dream of a 1973 day in 2018.
“This is how championship games are won,” Dowling confirmed.
Cork will have regrets. The Munster champions tightened up at the most important moment (in the home straight).
Conor Lehane looked to have delivered the decisive blow: coming alive after a quiet opening stanza. Daniel Kearney picked Lehane out for a bullet goal on 52 minutes that silenced the army of Limerick people who journeyed up the M7 in full belief this was their time after 45 years of anguish.
They do need to celebrate, and leave the players alone. The big screen pulled out one man with head buried in the Treaty green jersey. A woman openly sobbed.
Both moods extinguished by the finish.
But at that moment Cork led 1-24 to 1-18.
The same ending, again, surely.
Dowling arrived to see out the inevitable. Sure, what could he do, what could anyone do to stop the Rebels now they had discarded their earlier inaccuracy? It was relentless, inevitable, the striking blows of history would send Limerick home with the same old nothingness.
Dowling clipped a free and another point (after Hawk Eye said Tá) but that merely rustled Cork into a few more swipes; Luke Meade and the shining Darragh Fitzgibbon latched on insurance scores with nine minutes still to play.
Then, incomprehensively, Cork froze. They released their grip long enough for Limerick to drop their shoulders, open their chests and hurl. Dowling made it a one-point game as the call went up for four additional minutes.
Aaron Gillane - not yet a superstar, never mind household name, but both seem inevitable - levelled matters.
The 71,073 crowd made this volcanic sound.
Cork moved to end this ghastly nightmare before it got out of hand.
Down field they came, walking through green bodies, to give Séamus Harnedy, their injured captain but unbowed warrior, a clear sight of the net. Time slowed as he cocked the hurley to bury Limerick.
What happened next needs seeing to believe. Nickie Quaid had a split nanosecond to tip the ball away from the axe man’s cleave. Harnedy splashed the damp Dublin air. That touch alone may win the Limerick goalkeeper an All Star.
Enough! Extra-time was needed. But no, Limerick were in Joe Frazier mode and 100 metres away Pat Ryan drew a free off the almost flawless Damien Cahalane. Gillane pointed for the win, right?
Anthony Nash’s puck-out reached midfield where Lehane was fouled by Diarmuid Byrnes.
The referee was Paud O’Dwyer, who deserves a mention for his calmness, his mistakes and his bravery.
Pat Horgan’s free brought us into more extra-time in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Cork bodies began to fracture. It was surprising to see Harnedy last as long as he did. Eoin Cadogan could barely walk off the field; it needed a serious wound to remove this giant of a centre back.
Gillane and Dowling scores over two Horgan points gave Limerick a tiny lead.
Then came the penalty. As Dowling turned in celebration he might of seen Gillane being helped away, unable to put weight on one leg.
Declan Hannon, their captain, was also forced off - rising his muscular arms at his ecstatic friends and family in the lower Hogan stand.
This sort of victory comes at a heavy cost but they should have been put away. With 57 minutes played they were six points down and had no score for seven minutes - it felt like total collapse for Limerick people matted amongst the sea of red.
But Dowling’s run, his composure to blast the penalty into the top corner, his role as a sub, makes all of this almost too crazy to believe.
Let’s put a pulsating first half into three categories: Aaron Gillane’s hurley-less goal chances, Cork’s brief purple patch and the electrocution of hurling that brought us to the interval.
Twice Gillane slipped away from Colm Spillane to see the whites of Anthony Nash’s eyes. Twice Spillane dislodged his weapon. First time Nash closed the angle and he booted over, second time Gillane proved his achilles heel is football.
The second miss was keenly felt by the increasingly restless Limerick supporters. They shouldn’t have trailed 0-10 to 0-8 after 29 minutes but the scoreboard never lies. Daniel Kearney posted a lovely score, after Declan Hannon was hooked by Seamus Harnedy (fit to start but not himself), while the silky touch of Mark Coleman put Cork ahead on 20 minutes. This felt at odds with the more economical Limerick attack - 13 scores from 20 shots in the first half - as Cork departed with nine wides and a one point deficit.
Pandemonium descended for a thrilling ending to the opening exchanges.
Graeme Mulcahy batted 0-3 over the bar and the Limerick sideline spat fire on the officials for not looking to Hawk Eye for a fourth. No matter the sides were level. Shane Kingston did all he could to raise a green flag for Cork but Nickie Quaid deflected the bullet over the bar. Mark Coleman’s sideline cut made it 0-13 to 0-11 as the seconds ticked away. Coleman’s marker Tom Morrissey responded from miles out the field but Kearney kept Cork two clear with his second.
That was enough nourishment, but no, Cian Lynch darted onto a superb pass by Séamus Flanagan to pound the net. Cork and Nash didn’t blink with the sliotar torpedoed down field before the roars reached fever pitch. Cork won a free but Pat Horgan put it wide.
Now they could rest, for 15 minutes.
The bodies carried some strain. Several players cramped up and were in too much pain to celebrate. Such wonderful spectacle. Nearly too much to take.
Limerick await the winners of the Clare versus Galway replay next Sunday in Thurles.
LIMERICK: 1. Nickie Quaid; 2.Seán Finn, 3. Mike Casey, 4. Richie English; 5. Diarmuid Byrnes (0-1, free), 6. Declan Hannon, 7. Dan Morrissey; 8. Darragh O’Donovan (0-1), 9. Cian Lynch (1-1); 10.Gearóid Hegarty (0-3), 11. Kyle Hayes (0-1), 12. Tom Morrissey (0-1); 13. Aaron Gillane (0-13, seven frees), 14. Séamus Flanagan (0-1), 15. Graeme Mulcahy (0-4). Subs: 17. Peter Casey for T Morrissey (51 mins), 19. Shane Dowling (1-4, goal penalty, one free) for Flanagan (57 mins), 26. Pat Ryan (1-0) for Mulcahy (63 mins), 24. Will O’Donoghue for O’Donovan (71 mins), 21. Séamus Hickey for Byrnes (76 mins), 23. Barry Nash (0-1) for Gillane (85 mins), 25. David Reidy (0-1) for Hannon (88 mins)
CORK: 1. Anthony Nash; 2. Seán O’Donoghue, 3. Damien Cahalane, 4.Colm Spillane; 5. Christopher Joyce (0-1), 6. Eoin Cadogan, 7. Mark Coleman (0-2, one lineball); 8. Bill Cooper, 9. Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-4); 10. Daniel Kearney (0-3), 14. Séamus Harnedy (0-2), 11. Conor Lehane (2-3); 13. Shane Kingston (0-3), 15. Patrick Horgan (0-11, 10 frees), 12. Luke Meade (0-1). Subs: 22. Robbie O’Flynn (0-1) for Kingston (55 mins), 18. Mark Ellis for Kearney (60 mins), 19. Tim O’Mahony for Meade (65 mins), 24. Michael Cahalane for Cadogan (71 mins), 10. Kearney for M Cahalane (start of extra time), 24. M Cahalane for Harnedy (77 mins), 13.Kingston for Fitzgibbon (78 mins), 23. Jack O’Connor (0-1) for Cadogan (84 mins)25. Michael Cahalane for Meade (half-time), 21. Daniel Kearney for Cooper (65 mins), 24. Luke O’Farrell (0-1) for Cadogan (65 mins)
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow).