Limerick book place in All-Ireland final after extra-time blitz sinks Cork in championship classic
Cork 2-31 Limerick 3-32
A stunning performance earned Limerick a place in the All-Ireland senior hurling final for the first time in 11 years, after they overpowered Cork in extra time with goals from Shane Dowling and Pat Ryan, both substitutes. Dowling was exceptional after replacing Seamus Flanagan in the 57th minute, bringing a level of leadership Limerick were crying out for when Cork went into a six-point lead with 15 minutes left.
Conor Lehane’s brilliant goal, an explosive shot to the roof of the net, put Cork five points up in the 53rd minute and a huge score from out near the sideline by Lehane gave them a six-point advantage. Limerick were in trouble and their performance level dropped, with players hitting wides and the team’s play becoming disjointed.
Even when Dowling hit two scores, from a free and play, Cork responded with two from Luke Meade and Darragh Fitzgibbon to leave six points in it again with the clock at 63 minutes. From there, Limerick made a remarkable recovery. Three points in three minutes, including a first for a generally ineffective Kyle Hayes, gave them hope. Two more from top scorer Aaron Gillane and Dowling reduced the difference to a point entering injury time and then Gillane levelled the sides with two minutes of additional time played.
Gillane looked to have won it with Limerick’s seventh point without reply with only a minute to go but Pat Horgan saved Cork with an equalising point in the last few seconds of additional time. The introduction of Peter Casey, Ryan and Dowling had a telling impact in helping raise Limerick from the dead in the final ten minutes.
The last few minutes of normal time was pure melodrama. Seamus Harnedy looked set to goal in injury time and win the match but Nickie Quaid made a heroic interception, and Limerick survived. At the other end Gillane held his nerve to nail a tricky free to put Limerick ahead with a minute left. Horgan then showed great composure in pointing from 70m to send the teams to extra-time.
In extra time Horgan restored Cork’s lead with a free but Limerick wrestled back control with three without reply from Dowling and Gillane (2). Horgan pulled one back before the break, his team trailing 1-29 to 1-30. In the final period Dowling made the vital breakthrough when he raced through the Cork defence before being fouled by Mark Ellis, winning a penalty which he rifled past Anthony Nash, leaving Limerick 2-30 to 1-29 ahead with six minutes remaining
They made sure when Ryan went through near the endline and lobbed Nash with a cheeky finish, to a huge roar from the Limerick followers. A late goal from Lehane made no difference to the outcome.
This was a bitter loss for Cork, who have now lost three semi finals since appearing in the All-Ireland final in 2013. They imploded in the final ten minutes of their semi final meeting with Waterford a year ago, their structure and composure undermined by the dismissal of defender Damien Cahalane. In 2014 they were well beaten by Tipperary at the same point in the championship, having headed to Croke Park with high hopes as Munster champions. They were banking on those experiences giving them an edge over a relatively youthful Limerick side, appearing in their first semi final in four years. Of the Limerick team that played Kilkenny in a thrilling semi final in 2014, only three are playing now, an incredible turnover. Eight of the Cork team that bowed out to Tipp the same year started against Limerick today.
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The lead changed hands throughout the first half, but Limerick went in at the interval energised by a wonderful goal by Cian Lynch in injury time. Lynch had been quiet by his usual standards but when Flanagan spotted his diagonal run with the Cork defence gaping he picked him out with a pinpoint stick pass and the midfielder surged forward before putting a neat strike past Anthony Nash.
Daniel Kearney, highly influential as a link man and scorer of two first half points, might have had claims for a free just before Lynch’s goal, but the referee waved play on. A point attempt from Kearney four minutes before half time came off an upright, and Horgan almost goaded from the rebound, scooping the ball over the bar.
Horgan missed a couple of frees, and Gillane had a late free ruled wide, with Limerick protesting that it had been inside and calling in vain for HawkEye. Gillian was more culpable when squandering two good goal chances, though in both cases he did the hard work in outfielding his marker and getting through with only Nash to beat. On both occasions, Gillane lost this hurl and kicked for goal. The first effort at least yielded a point; the second was scuffed and went badly wide. He also blazed an excellent goal chance over the bar in extra time, but still finished with 0-13, 0-6 from play.
After the teams were tied three times, Gearoid Hegarty put Limerick in front for the first time in the eight minute. Cork drew level in the 19th minute through Kearney and an inspirational score from Mark Coleman had them back in front a minute later. Christopher Joyce extended Cork’s lead before Graeme Mulcahy hit three superb scores, twice tying up the teams.
Kingston came close to goaling for Cork nearing half time, his shot well saved by Quaid. Lynch made no mistake when presented with his chance a few minutes later, leaving Limerick 1-12 to 0-14 up at the interval.
Afterwards Dowling appealed to their fans to allow them the space to prepare for a final in which they will be aiming to win the county’s first All-Ireland in 45 years. On this form they will take stopping.
Scorers: Limerick - A Gillane 0-13 (0-7 fs); S Dowling (1-0 pen; 0-1 f) 1-4 (0-1 f); C Lynch 1-1; G Mulcahy 0-4; P Ryan 1-0; G Hegarty 0-3; D Byrne (f), D O’Donovan, S Flanagan, K Hayes, T Morrissey, B Nash, D Reidy 0-1. Cork - P Horgan 0-11 (0-10 fs); C Lehane 2-3; D Fitzgibbon 0-4; S Kingston, D Kearney 0-3; S Harnedy, M Coleman (1 lineball) 0-2,; C Joyce, L Meade, J O’Connor 0-1.
Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English; D Byrnes, D Hannon, D Morrissey; D O’Donovan, C Lynch; G Hegarty, K Hayes, T Morrissey; A Gillane, S Flanagan, G Mulcahy.
Subs: P Casey for T Morrissey (51 mins); S Dowling for Flanagan (57); P Ryan for Mulcahy (63); W O’Donoghue for D O’Donovan (71); S Hickey for Byrnes (77); B Nash for Gillane (inj 84); D Reidy for Hannon (86).
Cork: A Nash; S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Spillane; E Cadogan, C Joyce, M Coleman; B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon; D Kearney, C Lehane, L Meade; S Kingston, S Harnedy, P Horgan.
Subs: R O’Flynn for Kingston (55 mins); M Ellis for Kearney (inj 60); T O’Mahoney for Meade (64); M Cahalane for Cadogan (71);D Kearney for M Cahalane (extra time); M Cahalane for Harnedy (77); S Kingston for Fitzgibbon (inj 78); J O’Connor for Kearney (84).
Referee: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).