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Nicky English: Limerick crown a great weekend for hurling

John Kiely’s team proved amazingly resilient again when the match was in the balance

From a starting point of being sceptical about staging both All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend, I ended up sold on the idea of it being a hurling festival. It obviously helped that the two days in Croke Park produced superb contests – with the added intrigue that we’re still not sure who will actually be in the final in three weeks’ time.

Limerick are there after proving yet again their resilience under the most extreme pressure.

Their semi-final against Cork mightn't have produced a symbolic individual contest like John Conlon and Daithí Burke on Saturday but I was struck by one abiding image.

In extra time, Cian Lynch and Bill Cooper were both stretched out beside each other with cramp, having played themselves to a standstill.


From Limerick’s perspective, it was a triumph for their strength of will. When Darragh Fitzgibbon put Cork six up, the game looked over. Conor Lehane’s emergence in the second half appeared to have decided it with those points and a class goal. But Limerick’s reinforcements again came to the rescue and showed that they had the edge on their opponents.

Shane Dowling was the most important of the subs, earning the penalty and producing a fantastic finish to put it in the net. If I was the manager I'd have opted for the point because I felt Cork were out on their feet but he effectively won the game.

He also showed great nerve with his first free just after he had come on. It was a long way out and he simply had to score because Limerick had fallen six behind.

They looked nervous in the second half for long spells and even after coming back, they had Nickie Quaid to thank for the save from Séamus Harnedy that kept them in it.

They kicked on in extra-time and Pat Ryan's goal put the icing on the cake but Limerick had a number of good performers throughout. In the first half, Gearóid Hegarty provided a focus when they needed it and Graeme Mulcahy got points at times when they were really needed.

Aaron Gillane is an outstanding player, as he showed yesterday but he still has lots to learn. He continues to end up without his hurley at times when he most needs it but his free-taking has become more reliable and he has a proven knack of getting into goalscoring positions and those goals will come with experience.

Most influential

Interestingly, the players who were most influential when the sides met in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in June, Séamus Flanagan and Tom Morrissey didn't get into it this time.

It has been a great year for Limerick with promotion in the league and now an All-Ireland final. The flip side is Cork. Once again, the Munster champions have fallen in the semi-final – for the sixth time in eight years – and on this occasion they were six up in the last 10 minutes. They lost key players to injury, Harnedy, Daniel Kearney and Fitzgibbon and their back-up wasn't as strong as Limerick's and that was decisive.

Saturday’s tumultuous semi-final for me could be encapsulated in the battle between John Conlon and Daithí Burke. Both you could say played well and Conlon did some unbelievable things; he single-handedly brought Clare back into the game when they finally got ball into him at the start of the second half.

Then for Galway to get back the lead in the 60th minute it was Burke who caught the ball at the back and defended. Even with rumours of a niggling injury, he managed to play through 90-plus minutes when others couldn’t.

The extraordinary physical contest between the two of them was nearly matched all over the field.

Initially it went to script: Galway dominant but not making the most of it and Johnny Glynn gifted Cathal Mannion a goal chance that he spurned and they hit 12 wides. There was a tricky wind at the Hill end that they found difficult to manage – as did Clare at the start of extra time.

The Clare management of Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney had to do something and moving Colm Galvin back really paid off for them. For some reason they had started Pat O'Connor on Glynn but around the same time as the Galvin switch, they moved David McInerney onto him instead, which also played a role in tightening the defence.

I thought Dónal Tuohy, once he recovered from a difficult start when his puck-outs were getting picked off, was outstanding in all facets: his save from Conor Cooney kept them in it, he deserved credit for shutting down other goal chances, even if they were ultimately more misses than saves, and his distribution settled down.

Galway will wonder about losing the initiative to the extent they did. For me it was further evidence of champions’ fatigue, which they’ve demonstrated at times this year.

Their great start might have been slightly counter-productive in that Glynn’s initial success under the high ball appeared to make them a bit unambitious in constantly looking for him.

There were two outstanding individual feats on the day. Peter Duggan’s point under pressure in the second half will rank along with Ciarán Carey’s and Kevin Broderick’s when great scores are remembered whereas Pádraic Mannion’s display at wing back for Galway was nothing short of sensational.