SENSATIONAL stuff in the Gaelic Grounds as Cork squeezed past Clare and into the All-Ireland hurling quarter-final after an epic battle with their modern rivals the Banner.
This was as explosive as we expected from teams that don't fear each other in the slightest. Ultimately, Cork's goal threat was the difference. They scored two in the first half and could have had five. That Patrick Horgan hit four 65s, converting three, highlighted Cork's goal-driven mentality.
It was a great win because it was so important, keeping the buzz going in Cork hurling after recent underage victories. A lot of Rebels stood up and were counted.
Horgan clipped over some key points, Luke Meade put in a Trojan shift and Rob Downey was a colossus at full-back. Seán O'Donoghue saw two of his markers subbed off, Seamus Harnedy was an essential outlet for long ball, Jack O'Connor a menace with his pace, Ger Millerick gave an exhibition of hooking and blocking, and Patrick Collins denied Tony Kelly with the save of the season.
O'Connor, Shane Kingston and Shane Barrett's finishes for the goals were outrageous.
That terrific save by Collins in the dying seconds when Tony Kelly looked certain to rifle the sliotar to the net saw off a never-say-die Clare.
The finale was map-cap stuff. Cork lost O'Connor and Niall O'Leary late on to red cards, while Kelly stitched the penalty that saw O'Leary dismissed. That gave them one last chance, which only for Collins they'd have taken.
And Clare had looked likely winners with 20 minutes left. Brian Lohan's side had all the momentum by firing three points on the bounce after the second water break, having also scored just before it, to go 0-21 to 2-14 up.
Instead, Cork dug in. Alan Connolly scored a point from a puck-out and assisted another for Patrick Horgan, Shane Barrett and Harnedy clipped over neat efforts before Downey, immense throughout, denied sub Gary Cooney a certain goal. Then Harnedy teed up Barrett with a slick stick pass and the U20 dynamo finished in some style. Harnedy then earned a free to open a six-point gap.
That was before the late mayhem.
Cork couldn't get into their groove at all in the third quarter, through a combination of increased Clare work-rate and the withdrawal of their players to clog up between the 65 and the goal. Though O'Connor had a goal chance that was deflected for a 65, points were proving hard to come by.
The tone looked to have been set by Cork in the opening exchanges, denying Clare the lightning start that served them well in defeating Waterford and Wexford. Horgan, so uncharacteristically subdued the last day, lanced over the first two Cork points from play.
While Horgan was wearing 11, he was left on the D, in acres of space, with Jack O'Connor and Alan Cadogan, out wide. Horgan could also have had an early goal, letting rip a bit too early.
The setup was ideal for O'Connor's blistering pace, who scored a sensational goal, was denied a second with a flying save, and set up Harnedy for another with some extremely clever play to keep the sliotar alive. A flying hook foiled the veteran.
Eventually, Cork raised a second green flag through Kingston, with Harnedy and Horgan involved. Both teams struggled to split the posts from play, because of the congested middle third and the ball-carrying style utilised by both. Meade was processing the world of ball by lying deep but his direct opponent Cathal Malone did pop up with 0-3 in the first half.
How important was this game? Well for context, in Cork's previous four championship games under Kingston, they'd lost three, with the qualifier elimination at the hands of Tipp last winter particularly galling as the game was there for the taking in the last quarter.
In 2019, Cork made the quarter-finals, fading out to Kilkenny after an electric start and despite a Patrick Horgan hat-trick but had also lost to Tipp and Clare in the Munster round-robin, and got a handy backdoor tie with Westmeath.
Yes, Cork underage hurling is flying right now, having made it to five consecutive U20/U21 provincial deciders, but senior success is still the true gauge of a county's health. The rest is just development.
The Rebels have made it their business of replaying the Banner in spades since the 2013 All-Ireland loss. They beat them in the Munster semi-final rematch in 2014 and dumped them out in the '15 qualifiers. Munster final victories in 2017 and '18 were split by a win in the Páirc when Harnedy and Conor Lehane hit second-half goals. They were beaten in a rain-soaked 2019 tie in Ennis, but Cork still got out of the province regardless, while Clare were eliminated.
This was the latest in that sequence. And another sweet one!