CHRISTY Ring said that Kilkenny win the classics but Cork win the battles. However, the great one never said who wins the semi-finals.
That was because, in his day, meetings between the two counties only came in All-Ireland finals – it was the case for the first 24 championship clashes between the counties from 1894-2006. That day, when Kilkenny denied Cork a three-in-a-row and set in train their own dynasty, remains the last time the two most successful hurling outfits met in a final but this Sunday’s last-four tie will be the fifth since then.
In 2013, Cork claimed victory in a Thurles quarter-final to reach the semis against Dublin, that win proving to be their last to date in Croke Park. Six years later, a tour de force from Patrick Horgan, scoring 3-10, wasn’t enough to stop Kilkenny at the same stage. Prior to that, though, came the counties’ only two semi-final meetings, in 2008 and 2010, both telling similar stories.
Cork began 2008 on strike and a good start against Tipperary in the Munster championship was overhauled by the visitors in Páirc Uí Chaoimh but Gerald McCarthy’s side picked up momentum with qualifier wins over Dublin, Galway and Clare to set up a meeting of the sides who had won the last six All-Irelands between them.
Brian Cody’s team held a four-two advantage on that front but, while Kilkenny were going for three in a row, their easy navigation through Leinster meant there were doubts as to how good they really were and Cork were being given a better than outside chance. That it was the fifth meeting of the counties since 1999, with two wins apiece since then, only added to the occasion.
Having been brought off in the previous two games, full-back Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s place was a topic of discussion around Cork in the lead-up, but, for the only time all year, Cork went with an unchanged side and the Cloyne man answered his critics in spades. Sadly, it was one of only a few positives for Cork as Kilkenny ran out nine-point victors and the fact Cork ran them closest all year was no consolation.
The first 21 minutes showed promising signs, the sides level six times with superb point-taking on either side, but Kilkenny had built up a three-point lead by the time Eoin Larkin struck for the game’s only goal on 29, and it was 1-12 to 0-7 at the break, Cork only scoring two points in the second quarter.
Though Cork showed signs of yet another epic comeback in the second half with three consecutive points at one stage, they closest they could get was within five points and nobody could argue with the 1-23 to 0-17 final score. Kilkenny confirmed their status as the best around with a 3-30 to 1-13 victory over Waterford in the All-Ireland final and made it four Liam MacCarthy Cups on the trot in 2009.
That meant that, when they next encountered Cork in the championship, they were just two games away from an unprecedented five in a row. Cork, now under the management of Denis Walsh, had been on the verge of Munster glory only for Waterford to salvage a draw in the provincial final with a late goal before winning the replay.
It meant a quarter-final clash with Antrim, with Cork winning by eight points to advance to take on Kilkenny, but this time the Cats were overwhelming favourites and that status was borne out.
Though Cork were level at 0-2 each after 16 minutes, a Richie Power point and Eddie Brennan goal put the game on a path from which it would not deviate. Aidan Fogarty scored their second goal on 22 and not even the loss of Henry Shefflin to injury upset Kilkenny, as the man who replaced him, Martin Comerford, pointed with his first touch and further points had them 2-10 to 0-3 clear.
It was 2-12 to 0-5 at half-time and, while Cork did win a second-half penalty, PJ Ryan tipped Patrick Horgan’s effort over the bar. The young Glen Rovers starlet had an impressive game overall, landing some fine scores from play, but a comeback was always a remote possibility, even with Kilkenny’s levels dropping in the second half. Power put an extra gloss on his, and his side’s, performance with another goal in the 62nd minute, and while Cork did manage to reel off some further points near the end, they merely served to make the scoreline look less lop-sided. At the end, it was 3-22 to 0-19 but the five in a row was elusive, Kilkenny losing to Tipperary, whom Cork had beaten by ten points in the Munster quarter-final.
Cork have yet to beat Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final and haven’t won any at all since 2013 – but Sunday could change both of those statistics.