Hurley class sees Rebels ride storm
DEAD-BALL specialist Brian Hurley was ultimately the hero -- keeping Cork's All-Ireland double hopes alive by winning and then scoring the last-gasp free that clinched victory over a heartbroken Galway yesterday.
But plenty of his team-mates could also claim credit for the manner in which the Rebels' comeback kids coolly kept their heads and clawed their way back to victory after trailing by nine points after 44 minutes.
Galway blitzed the Munster champions with three of their sensational five goals coming in the third quarter alone, which would have been enough to kill off many with weaker stomachs.
Even though it was level after 57 minutes, the Tribesmen actually took the lead again twice in the dying minutes. Yet after making sensational comebacks against Clare, Kerry and Armagh this season, Cork's never-say-die teenagers once more refused to buckle.
"With 15 minutes to go I thought, 'if we can pull this one out of the fire we'll be very lucky'," admitted their delighted manager Brian Cuthbert. Sheer doggedness and hard graft had more to do with it than luck, but they did get two fortunate breaks in dying minutes.
First Galway's best defender, corner-back Colm MacDonnacha, got injured and while he was being treated Dan McEoin got free to win a ball and feed it to Kevin Hallissey, who equalised with three minutes of normal time remaining.
And then, at the end of the three minutes of added time, after Galway had twice gone ahead but been hauled back by Hurley's impeccable free-taking, Fiach O Bearra turned over possession in attack with a loose crossfield pass that allowed Cork to rally one last time.
Galway manager Gerry Fahy would not fault the youngster, or any of his side, saying: "In fairness to the young fella, he was trying to pick out a player who very nearly had his hands on it.
"I'd never blame fellas, they're learning their game, this is where Galway need to be and I think a lot of those young players will grace Galway senior teams in the future," he said.
"I'm bad (disappointed) enough myself and I'm experienced, but you should see our dressing-room. I feel so sorry for them because they gave everything they could," Fahy added.
It was a minor semi-final that was as delightfully helter-skelter and entertaining as the senior one that followed.
As Cuthbert noted, it certainly disproved the notion that flair and creativity is being coached out of youngsters these days and the final, against Tyrone, should be equally open and exciting.
Both sides came with some beautifully accomplished attackers and while you could quibble with the quality of the defending, the wide open prairie of Croke Park allowed them to flourish.
Yet when it came down to a question of nerve, it was Cork who had the greater composure.
"We don't have any superstars but what we have are very mature players and a panel that we really trust who will battle right to the very end," the ecstatic Cork boss said.
Cuthbert could take plenty of credit himself because he whipped off both of his corner-backs and threw on all five of his subs by the 50th minute and every one of them played their part.
It very much mirrored last week's semi-final because, for a long time, the bookies' favourites were chasing the game and only came good at the death.
A high ball in from Niall Walsh saw excellent Galway corner-forward Peadar O Griofa outfield his man to goal after just six minutes and a fantastic point off the left boot of the equally exciting Conor Rabbitte had extended their lead to four by the 16th minute.
And yet Cork, playing into the stiff breeze, looked dangerous, particularly with excellent wing-back Jamie Wall, half-forward John O'Rourke and intelligent midfielder Damian Cahalane -- a real chip off the same granite block from which his father Niall was hewn -- dictating their impressive running game. They actually spurned three great goal chances, forcing two good saves from James Keane, before finally getting one after 29 minutes thanks to a defence-splitting run from Wall, which O'Rourke then laid off to Hallissey.
That levelled the game at 1-5 each, only the second time they'd been level since the fourth minute, yet Galway responded immediately when substitute Daithi Burke popped a speculative lob towards the square and O Griofa grabbed it and his second goal to see the Tribesmen lead 2-5 to 1-5 at the break.
Cork had actually kicked five wides to one by then and, on resumption, the scoring was equally dazzling.
Two minutes after the restart Hurley, one-handed, kept a ball from going over the end-line to beat his man and goal to level it.
Yet again Galway responded almost immediately, with Niall Walsh goaling, and five minutes later Cork's net rattled again, after Shane Maughan held off his marker to feed the onrushing Conor Rabbitte.
Galway's talented corner-forward pulled off a similar move to feed full-forward Rabbitte again for Galway's fifth goal in the 44th minute to give them their 5-6 to 2-6 lead.
But within 40 seconds Cork had responded again when Hallissey ran onto a long ball for his second goal and they intelligently picked off six unanswered points to get back into the game, with Cahalane, Jamie Burns, Hallissey and John O'Rourke providing the platform with a mountain of work in midfield.
Scorers -- Cork: K Hallissey 2-2, B Hurley 1-5 (0-5f), D Cahalane, M Sugrue 0-2 each, J Wall, J O'Rourke, D Fitzgerald, D McEoin 0-1 each. Galway: C Rabbitte 2-1, P O'Griofa 2-1 (0-1f), N Walsh 1-1, S Maughan 0-3 (0-1f), N Quinn, C O'Neill 0-1 each.
Cork -- D Hanrahan; J Goggin, M O'Shea, D Murphy; D Lester, T Clancy, J Wall; J Burns, D Cahalane; J O'Rourke, M Sugrue, A Cronin; K Hallissey, D Fitzgerald (capt), B Hurley. Subs: D McEoin for Fitzgerald (28), K Fulignati for Murphy (36), C O'Sullivan for Goggin (41), S O'Mahony for Sugrue (46), T Hegarty for Lester (49).
Galway --J Keane; C MacDonnacha, J Shaughnessy, P Varley; M Loughane, M Kelly, J Vaughan; E Commins, T Flynn; N Quinn, F O Curraoin (capt), N Walsh; P O Griofa, C Rabbitte, S Maughan. Subs: D Burke for Vaughan (21), C O'Neill for Commins (24), F O Bearra for Quinn (44), A Varley for Walsh (53), D Black for MacDonnacha (58).
Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois).