‘The Game’ started on RTÉ last night.
The programme celebrates hurling, exploring its origins from prehistory to its phenomenal growth into the greatest field game in the world.
A sport handed down from generation to generation like a heirloom, passed on like a golden treasure has presented this country with the greatest gift imaginable.
Two hurling matches within the space of 24 hours produced two epics, games that would reach into the soul of a stone.
Both matches required extra time.
There were 130 scores recorded over the 190 minutes.
Saturday’s Clare-Galway game was a hard act for Cork-Limerick to follow.
But they did. And more.
It was possibly the greatest 24 hours in the history of the GAA.
Hitchcock couldn’t have made it up.
Cork looked to be sailing into the final when they led by six points in the 62nd minute.
Limerick were gasping for oxygen, and momentum.
Eight second half wides had loosened their foothold in the match but Limerick never panicked, and never lost focus.
Cork couldn’t get the ball past the Limerick half-back line.
Limerick continued to use the ball smartly and intelligently and they finally began to find their range; six unanswered points from six shots in nine minutes wiped out the deficit.
Seamus Harnedy had the chance to win the match but the sides traded scores to take it to extra time.
It was still all to play for but the tide had clearly turned.
Limerick were oozing energy and confidence.
Cork’s body language smacked of tiredness because they were clearly running out of gas.
And bodies. Daniel Kearney was carried off in normal time, before coming on again in extra-time, and then being taken off again, unable to give any more.
The contributions from the comparative benches was always likely to be a huge factor.
Coming into the match, Limerick’s subs had contributed 2-10; Cork’s bench had hit just 0-2.
On Sunday, the Limerick subs hit 2-6; the Cork bench managed just one point.
Limerick’s total was spread across four different scorers – Shane Dowling, Pat Ryan, Barry Nash and David Reidy. Peter Casey didn’t score but he won six balls and had a hand in three scores.
Ryan was also fouled for Limerick’s lead point from a free in normal time, as well as having a key hand in another point.
Limerick were magnificent but Cork will look back on this as another missed opportunity.
They couldn’t kill the game when they seemingly had full control of it late on. The harshest critics will hammer Cork for not seeing the match out from a winning position but Limerick just built up an irresistible momentum that Cork couldn’t halt.
Cork had more possessions (212-203) but Limerick used theirs better. The Cork attack didn’t get the same service that they had enjoyed in previous games but they also struggled to get away from a tight-marking Limerick defence. Mikey Casey was excellent on Horgan, who, from 13 plays, scored one point from play, was fouled for three frees, and had one assist. Horgan also had two wides, miscued his first shot, while he hit the post late in normal time.
Harnedy tried hard, especially when he was injured for much of the game. From 11 plays, he scored two points, had three assists and was fouled for a converted free. He had that late chance to win the match but Nickie Quaid deserves huge credit for his superb intervention.
Cork had more shots (55-54). It is almost inconceivable to think that a team could score 2-31, albeit after extra-time, and still lose by four points. Cork’s conversion rate in the second half of normal time was superb when scoring 1-13 from 18 chances. But the scoring rate slowed down when a couple of more scores – especially when Limerick mounted their late charge - would have got Cork over the line.
The sides had just three scoring chances in the first half of extra time but Limerick absolutely dominated possession in that period. They also looked fully in control before making a break for the finishing line early in the second half. Dowling was hauled down for a penalty, which he buried, before Pat Ryan had the ball in the net shortly afterwards. Game over.
Most of Limerick’s early damage stemmed from the dominance on their own puckout. Limerick won 14 of their 18 puckouts in the first half and turned that possession into 1-5. Limerick did have a grip on the first quarter but they had only created two more scoring chances in the opening 18 minutes. Cork were struggling to supply their inside forward line, mostly because the Limerick half-back line was cutting it out, but Cork finally hit a groove, converting five points from five shots to lead by 0-10 to 0-8 after 25 minutes.
The Cork full-back line was playing well (they made an impressive 54 plays over the 90 minutes) but Graeme Mulcahy grabbed the game by the throat, scoring three points from play between the 29th-31st minutes. Cian Lynch’s goal put Limerick in front at half time before the opening five minutes of the second half seemed to set the trend of the second half. Limerick hit five wides in the opening five minutes while Cork nailed five points from their first five shots.
Conor Lehane had a massive 20 minutes, scoring 1-3 from five plays. His goal looked to have handed control to Cork but bodies were tiring. Nobody summed up Cork’s predicament more than Kearney. Superb in the first 40 minutes, when making a colossal 24 plays – three of which were points, while he had four assists – Kearney naturally began to flag after running himself into the ground.
Bodies were beginning to break down on both sides but Limerick had the greater quality, especially from their young players, to bring in. Cork meanwhile, were forced to bring back on three players they’d already taken off.
And that greater strength in depth, and the subsequent impact from Limerick’s subs, ultimately proved the difference.