Limerick's Dan Morrissey challenges Brian Hayes of Cork in Sunday's semifinal at Croke Park. [Inpho/Laszlo Geczo]

Cork's determination is key as Limerick's drive for 5 ends

Cork 1-28; Limerick 0-29

All sport reigns must come to an end sometime – and so it came to pass at a packed Croke Park on Sunday afternoon when traditional kingpins Cork finally got the better of Limerick in this venue to dethrone the four-in-a-row champions who were seeking to become historic five-time winners.

If Clare and Kilkenny whetted the appetite at the same venue on Saturday, then the full house and TV audience were treated to a feast of unbelievable quality in the grand old game which we are proud to call our national game.

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In the end there was no doubting that Cork’s hunger was greater but let’s hail Limerick for fighting to the very last whistle and ultimately dying in a sporting sense with their boots on.

The odd thing about the two semi-finals is that they appeared to be ends in themselves with Clare getting the better of Kilkenny at last, having lost the two previous semi jousts to their Leinster opponents.

Although Cork had beaten the Treaty men in the Munster round-robin, it was still Limerick who survived to win the provincial championship, so the win in Croker on Sunday felt more like a final victory than merely providing a rite of passages to play for the prize that is Liam MacCarthy in two weeks’ time.

Yet, that is what both managers Brian Lohan (Clare) and Pat Ryan (Cork) must hammer home to their crews that no Celtic Crosses are handed out for reaching a final – the final is a case of the winner taking it all and the loser having to go back to hope that 2025 be a year of deliverance.

The upcoming  encounter is a rerun of the 2013 All Ireland final when the Banner, managed by Davy Fitzgerald, got the better of Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s Rebels after a replay. That was the game which launched Shane O’Donnell with a hat-trick of goals in the first 20 minutes. 

Most in  the 82,300 at Croke Park on Sunday will  believe they have seen the team which will win out – but then Clare were underdogs 11 years ago, too – and look what happened.

 Less than half the Sunday crowd turned up on Saturday but they witnessed their own titanic struggle as Clare came back from an anonymous first half showing to force their game on Kilkenny. That sort of determination was replicated by Cork who after going five points up in this game in the first half, were pegged back as Limerick played their best hurling in the second quarter to lead by 0-16 to 1-11 after a frantic opening 38 minutes of play.

Pat Ryan’s team  were asked the big question – were they man enough to take on the green juggernaut and come out of the inevitable Collison still standing?

By scoring 10 points in 11 minutes immediately after resumption of play, the Rebel players told one and all they were up for whatever Limerick could throw at them as the likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon, Declan Dalton, Seamus Harnedy, Shane Barrett and Patrick Horgan – who had somehow remained scoreless in the opening half, even missing a 20 meters free – showing they meant business.

This red arrow of scores had them seven points to the good with 13 minutes but wait a minute, we all knew Limerick weren’t going to walk away without one helluva fight.

And so it came to pass with the impeccable Aaron Gillane leading the charge with scores from play and frees. Subs Adam English and Shane O’Brien joined in the score-taking and suddenly there was only two points between the sides with four minutes left in injury time.

They led by seven after 57 minutes but Limerick fought like the great team they are, Aaron Gillane (0-10, 4f) and young subs Adam English and Shane O'Brien helping to cut the gap to two points as four minutes of injury-time loomed.

Limerick went for a goal but Cork jerseys seemed bigger and much more prevalent in this half, particularly in front of their un-breeched goal.

The final whistle blew and a red tide ascended on Croke Park as scarves, flags, jerseys and faces blended into one.  An epic game had been decided and there was no shame in Limerick loss but there was extra, extra rejoicing in a Cork win after 19 years in the wilderness.

They’ll have a chance to correct that  stat on July 21 – and to give Patrick Horgan, who had a great second-half of cool point-taking when his side needed it,  his chance to bow out  with a winner’s medal, and the record for scores in hurling,  at 36 years of age.

Afterwards Cork Boss Ryan said: “I thought they were going to come back and bate us, like they do everyone. Our fellas stuck in there and really ground it out. A couple of lads came on and made a bit of a difference for us.

“We've nothing won, we're into an All-Ireland final. Lads will celebrate tonight because you have to celebrate all your victories in amateur sport. Fellas will really enjoy it and we'll look after what happens with Clare next week,” he emphasized.

Limerick supremo was magnanimous in defeat, albeit saying the loss would “hurt immeasurably” over the coming weeks and months.

"Hats off to Cork. Congratulations to them, we wish them well. They fought to the bitter end.They were that bit more efficient than us. But I have to say I am incredibly proud of the efforts of our team.

“It's not easy to come back time after time after time and show the levels of hunger and desire that our lads have shown for so many years. I thought we finished the game quite strong. Definitely created enough scoring opportunities, I think we had 38 scoring opportunities to their 36.

"It boiled down to efficiency at end of the day and theirs was better than ours. That's top quality sport," he remarked.

Cork: P Collins; N O'Leary, E Downey, S O’Donoghue (c); T O’Mahony, R Downey (0-1), M Coleman (0-1); C Joyce, D Fitzgibbon (0-3); D Dalton (0-4, 0-2f), S Barrett (0-3), S Harnedy (0-4); P Horgan (0-5, 0-3f), A Connolly (0-3), B Hayes (1-4)Subs: E Twomey for O’Mahony (58), S Kingston for Dalton (62), R O’Flynn for Harnedy (66), P Power for Horgan (72)

Limerick: N Quaid; S Finn, D Morrissey, M Casey; Di Byrnes (0-3, 0-2f), D Hannon (capt), K Hayes (0-1); W O'Donoghue, C O'Neill (0-3); G Hegarty (0-1), C Lynch (0-1), T Morrissey (0-2); A Gillane (0-10, 0-4f), S Flanagan (0-1), D Reidy (0-3) Subs: S O’Brien (0-2) for Flanagan (52), A English (0-2) for Reidy (54), D O’Donovan for O’Donoghue (54, A O’Connor for T Morrissey (64)

Ref: T Walsh (Waterford).