Hurling

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Hurling's top 10 - the best games of the modern era

Colm Keys

Published 01/10/2013|04:00

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Henry Shefflin who scored a controversial penalty in 2009
Paul Flynn, who sent a free straight to the net in the 2004 Munster Final
Davy Fitzgerald pictured in his playing days in 1997

GAA president Liam O'Neill was quick to declare from the podium during his presentation speech after Saturday's epic All-Ireland final replay that it was the "game of the millennium."

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Many other commentators are of similar mind. But for all the quality, entertainment and skills, does it deserve top billing in the modern era?

We look back at some of its rivals for that status and give a verdict.

1 - 2009 ALL-IRELAND FINAL

Kilkenny 2-22 Tipperary 0-23

Still the greatest? That is very much under threat after last weekend. Maybe it lags a little behind for the sheer thrill factor of last Saturday evening, but the ferocity of the first of three successive Kilkenny/ Tipperary deciders elevates it that bit higher.

Every ball was a contest, a primal affair crystallised by Jackie Tyrrell's thundering early challenge on Tipperary's Seamus Callanan. In the first half alone, the sides were level seven times.

Kilkenny came from two points down to lead by four in a stunning 40-second turnaround, precipitated by referee Diarmuid Kirwan's decision to award them a penalty which Henry Shefflin duly stuck away. Kilkenny goalkeeper PJ Ryan was heroic, with a string of saves preventing Tipperary from adding to their 14 goals that season and ensuring a four in a row for the Cats.

2 - 2013 ALL-IRELAND FINAL REPLAY

Clare 5-16 Cork 3-16

Big question-marks over the quality of defending but not the quality of entertainment.

In the dying light of a crisp autumn evening, Croke Park has rarely witnessed an occasion like it. Replays were never supposed to be as good as this.

You can be critical of the touch of some but not the character displayed by both teams or the chronology of the scores culminating in Darach Honan's wonderful solo effort to finally kill off Cork after just over 140 minutes.

3 - 2004 MUNSTER FINAL

Waterford 3-16 Cork 1-21

Outside Croke Park this may just have been hurling's greatest game of the modern era, underpinned by Waterford's John Mullane's sending off just three minutes into the second half.

What unfolded after that was a game of the ages. Cork, the 2003 provincial champions, had played against a wind in the opening half and built up a 1-14 to 2-8 lead. In the circumstances they looked comfortable.

But a Paul Flynn free that flew straight to the net changed everything in the second half, and with Flynn adding another five points and Ken McGrath leading the 14-man resistance from centre-back, Waterford prevailed, McGrath's catch at the very end as they protected a one-point lead the game's signature moment.

4 - 2002 ALL-IRELAND SEMI-FINAL

Kilkenny 1-20 Tipperary 1-16

Hard to believe this was just Kilkenny's second championship win over Tipp in 80 years and their first since 1967. DJ Carey had sat out the provincial campaign but returned against the reigning champions.

He scored four points and set up the Jimmy Coogan goal that eventually broke this game, not long after Coogan's 55th-minute introduction.

The sides were level nine times including half-time (0-10 each), but John Carroll's goal on 47 minutes seemed to give Tipp the initiative. Carey's creation of the goal was a classic intervention, but even then Tipp weren't finished and only a flurry of late points dressed the result as something the margin really wasn't.

5 - 1991 MUNSTER FINAL REPLAY

Tipperary 4-19 Cork 4-15

The day the Tipperary crowd, at the Killinan End, led by a man in a wheelchair, invaded the pitch when Pat Fox's goal cut the deficit to just two points. When Aidan Ryan scored an insurance goal late on, the number of invaders swelled to hundreds.

This was an epic Munster final that Tipp found themselves nine points down in at one stage early in the second half. Nicky English had cried off with injury beforehand but John Leahy was superb. Ryan's goal was prefaced by drama at the other end when Pat Buckley's shot hit a post.

6 -  2005 ALL-IRELAND SEMI-FINAL

Galway 5-18 Kilkenny 4-18

Conor Hayes had asked his players to prevent goals in the wake of their 19-point hammering the previous year. They didn't obey his command but they still won. Like Saturday, the defending was sometimes suspect as Galway's Niall Healy picked holes in a Kilkenny defence missing Noel Hickey to bag a hat-trick.

Galway led 5-17 to 3-12 after 44 minutes but Kilkenny's character to finish just one score adrift was telling for what was to follow in the next four years.

7 - 1997 ALL-IRELAND FINAL

Clare 0-20 Tipperary 2-13

The first all-Munster All-Ireland final ended dramatically, with Tipperary's John Leahy facing down Clare goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald, just as he had done in the Munster final two months earlier.

This time Leahy had ball in hand but again Fitzgerald pulled off a remarkable save and Clare's grasp on a second All-Ireland title was retained.

Jamesie O'Connor had fired over the winning point just second earlier, with Clare manager Ger Loughnane famously raising his fist to acclaim it from behind the goals.

Goals from Eugene O'Neill and Liam Cahill cut into Clare's lead and it required late points from Ollie Baker and O'Connor, prior to that Fitzgerald save, to preserve it.

8 - 1996 MUNSTER SEMI-FINAL

Limerick 1-13 Clare 0-15

Undoubtedly the game that provided the greatest match winner of modern times – Ciaran Carey's catch from a puck-out and thundering run in injury-time remains one of the great moments of Munster championship history.

Clare, the reigning All-Ireland champions, led by three points going down the home straight at the Gaelic Grounds but Limerick caught them with four unanswered points.

Maybe there wasn't the flow that lit up other games of that and the current era but the hottest day of the year produced a most physical, intense and exhausting battle that Carey concluded so majestically.

9 - 1990 ALL-IRELAND FINAL

Cork 5-15 Galway 2-21

Croke Park sizzled with the temperature of the hurling as much as baking sunshine as the mercury soared into the mid-20s. Cork goalkeeper Ger Cunningham's save from Martin Naughton was critical 13 minutes into the second half after Galway, inspired by the magnificent Joe Cooney, led by 1-13 to 1-8 at the interval.

Cooney had struck 1-5 from play in the opening half but Cork seized the initiative after Cunningham's intervention and two John Fitzgibbon goals within 60 seconds late on sealed a memorable comeback.

10 - 2003 ALL-IRELAND SEMI-FINAL

Wexford 3-17 Cork 2-20

Rory McCarthy's late goal brought a gripping semi-final to a conclusion, wiping out Cork's three-point lead at the death.

Cork were hot favourites but it was Wexford who led by 1-11 to 0-10 at the break before Cork goals from Setanta O hAilpin and Joe Deane put them in the driving seat as they outscored their opponents 2-6 to 0-1.

But Mitch Jordan's goal put Wexford on the front foot again.

Colm Keys

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