All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Cork edge out Cats after extra-time thriller
All-Ireland SHC semi-final
CORK 1-37 KILKENNY 1-32
By John Harrington at Croke Park
This is what it’s all about.
Two heroic teams slugging it out until they had nothing left to give, individual players producing remarkable performances, dramatic scores producing ecstasy and agony in equal measure, and a wide-eyed crowd living on the edge of their seats.
There were 24,000 in Croke Park today for this All-Ireland SHC semi-final but it felt like an awful lot more. The noise they generated was a reminder that for all the fine hurling played in the absence of spectators, even this great sport is a pale shadow of itself without them.
What happened on the pitch was dramatic, but it was the atmosphere the match was played in that elevated the occasion to something else entirely.
It was Cork’s day in the end and the mental as well as physical resolve they had to show to win it bodes well for them in the long-term as well as the short-term.
But you have to give Kilkenny great credit too for the resolve they showed to score a last gasp equalising goal deep in injury-time to bring the game to extra-time.
Every Cork supporter in the stadium seemed shell-shocked by that turn of events, but fortunately for them their team kept their composure and struck the decisive blow of extra-time with a goal from the electric Jack O’Connor.
The Sarsfields man eventually had a big impact on this game, but like many his team-mates it took him some time to warm to the task because Kilkenny set the terms of engagement in the early running.
Their half-backs, midfield, and half-forwards dominated the middle third which gave them an edge in the possession stakes and more go-forward ball.
Cork were trying to pick their way this sector of the field rather than go long, but time and again they were turned over by swarming Kilkenny tacklers.
This very effective press created a number of scoring chances for the Cats, and Eoin Cody’s second point of the day had them 0-6 to 0-2 ahead by the 11th minute which was an accurate barometer of their dominance.
Credit to Cork, they didn’t panic. Instead they persisted with their hard-running, short-passing brand of hurling, and as the half progressed it finally started to pay some dividends.
Shane Barrett was giving them a good outlet in attack, winning three frees off his marker Paddy Deegan that Patrick Horgan pointed with the minimum of fuss.
And when Niall O’Leary strode forward confidently from his corner-back berth to strike a great point on the run that levelled the game, we were now dealing with a contest of equals.
There’s nothing that fires up Cork supporters than a Patrick Horgan point, and when he scored his first from play to give the Rebels a 0-7 to 0-6 lead at the water-break it was greeted with a great crescendo of noise.
Kilkenny weren’t fazed by this Cork purple patch. They seized the initiative again after the water-break thanks to the very lively Billy Ryan who got away from Robert Downey to hit two points in quick succession.
TJ Reid briefly stretched his team’s advantage to two points, but then the momentum swung again with three Cork points in a row from Darragh Fitzgibbon, Barrett, and a typically classy over the shoulder effort by Horgan.
But just when you thought that Cork were gaining the upper hand, Kilkenny came roaring back at them again with a trio of points themselves.
They could have had even more when Reid won a great ball and put Eoin Cody through, but his fiercely struck shot was brilliantly saved by Patrick Collins.
Horgan kept Cork in touch with his fourth point from play after an audacious first touch created the opportunity, and he had the last say of the half too with a free that left the half-time score reading 0-15 to 0-14 in Kilkenny’s favour.
The third quarter of the match followed a similar pattern – just when it looked like one team grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, the other would then rip it back off them.
Kilkenny produced the first power surge of the second half as they moved four points ahead by the 42nd minute, as once again they profited from turning over Cork puck-outs hit short.
Robbie O’Flynn gave Cork a badly needed toe-hold again with a sky-scraper of a point, but it was the introduction of substitute Shane Kingston that really changed the game.
He brought power, pace, ball-winning ability and clinical finishing to a Cork half-forward line that had only played in fits and starts until he arrived on the scene.
Remarkably, he would finish the match with seven points from play. If his father, Cork manager Kieran Kingston, doesn’t start him for the All-Ireland Final, it’ll be frosty around the dinner-table
His first of the match was followed by a Horgan free to leave the game deadlocked again.
Then came a huge moment in the game when Cork survived what would have been the disastrous concession of a goal after Patrick Collins was stripped of possession by Adrian Mullen but his shot was saved on the line by Niall O’Leary.
Down the field went Cork to create a goal-chance of their own but Jack O’Connor’s thunderous drive came back off the post. Kingston collected the rebound and pointed to bring the teams level.
After the water-break Cork really caught fire and it was substitutes Kingston and Alan Cadogan who lit the fuse as a brace each from the pair of substitutes helped Cork into a six-point lead by the 63rd minute.
Kilkenny were in a hole, but they climbed its rocky face implacably, one hand-hole at a time.
A TJ Reid ’65 and free were followed by points from Adrian Mullen and Eoin Cody to leave just two between the teams as the game ticked into normal time.
Jack O’Connor gave Cork some breathing space and Horgan could have finished Kilkenny off altogether, but uncharacteristically missed a ’65.
Then came that dramatic final act of normal time as Padraig Walsh dispossessed Tim O’Mahony, picked out Adrian Mullen with a perfect pass, and the half-forward banged a superb equalising goal to the back of the net.
Both teams were clearly fatigued in extra-time, but they still delivered thrill after thrill.
Billy Ryan had a rasper of a shot deflected over the bar by Patrick Collins, Eoin Murphy made a brilliant save from Alan Connolly, and then Mark Coleman saved a goal-bound shot from Walter Walsh in what was his last act of the game.
You felt if either team could get that goal it would be decisive, and O’Connor was the man who delivered it with is now becoming his trademark finish as he left a posse of defenders in his wake with a scorching run before lancing a rasper of a shot to the Kilkenny net.
That put Cork 1-33 to 1-29 ahead, and Kilkenny never quite looked like having the wherewithal to mount another comeback.
In the second period of extra-time Cork were able to keep them at arm’s length with their bench to the fore once again as Kingston, Cadogan, and Declan Dalton all firing over points.
Cork hurling is on the rise at all levels. A win of this magnitude and the All-Ireland Final appearance it has gained should given them more buoyancy.
Scorers for Cork: Patrick Horgan 0-15 (9f), Shane Kingston 0-7, Jack O’Connor 1-3, Alan Cadogan 0-3, Seamus Harnedy 0-2, Robbie O’Flynn 0-2, Niall O’Leary, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Barrett, Declan Dalton all 0-1.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-13 (9f, 3 65s), Adrian Mullen 1-3, Billy Ryan 0-5, Eoin Cody 0-4, James Maher, Padraig Walsh, Michael Carey, Conor Fogarty, Richie Reid, Richie Hogan, Alan Murphy all 0-1.
CORK: Patrick Collins; Niall O’Leary, Robert Downey, Seán O’Donoghue; Tim O’Mahony, Mark Coleman, Ger Millerick; Darragh Fitzgibbon, Luke Meade; Conor Cahalane, Séamus Harnedy, Robbie O’Flynn; Shane Barrett, Patrick Horgan, Jack O’Connor. Subs: Eoin Cadogan for Ger Mellerick (36), Shane Kingston for Darragh Fitzgibbon (42), Alan Cadogan for Shane Barrett (47), Damien Cahalane for Robbie O’Flynn (68), Alan Connolly for Conor Cahalane (71), Sean O’Leary Hayes for Mark Coleman (80), Darragh Fitzgibbon for Luke Meade (83), Declan Dalton for Jack O’Connor (85)
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Tommy Walsh, Huw Lawlor, Paddy Deegan; James Maher, Pádraig Walsh, Michael Carey; Conor Fogarty, Richie Reid; Adrian Mullen, John Donnelly, TJ Reid; Alan Murphy, Billy Ryan, Eoin Cody. Subs: Martin Keoghan for John Donnelly (half-time), Cillian Buckley for Richie Reid (51), Walter Walsh for Alan Murphy (52), James Bergin for Martin Keoghan (60), Richie Hogan for Eoin Cody (80), John Donnelly for Billy Ryan (89)
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)