All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final
By Kevin Galvin
TJ Reid hit the opening point for the Cats from play, but didn’t score again in the opening quarter hour, despite the reigning Leinster Champions tacking on five further points, as the Rebels challenge threatened to never materialise.
However the Leesiders hung in, and through Patrick Horgan’s free-taking abilities, managed to level and - albeit briefly - take the advantage.
Brian Cody made three changes from their Leinster final win over Galway; James Maher coming in for Darragh Corcoran at right half-back while Young Irelands’ Michael Carey starting at the expense of Conor Browne on the opposite side, and Conor Fogarty replaced Martin Keoghan in midfield.
While there was just the single change for Cork, with Kieran Kingston dropping son Shane in favour of Blarney clubman Shane Barrett in the forwards.
It should have been more comfortable for Cody’s side, who spurned two excellent goal chances, as Mark Coleman did brilliantly to wrap up a flying Reid bearing down on goal, before the Ballyhale Shamrocks turned provider to setup Eoin Cody, who could only fire down Patrick Collins’ throat.
15 played 14 at half-time in favour of the Cats, with 10 of those Cork points off the hurley of Glen Rovers’ Horgan, with the Rebels capitalising on some Kilkenny ill-discipline as they struggled to manufacture scoring opportunities of their own.
TJ Reid opened the lead in the opening moments of the second, but after Kieran Kingston introduced son Shane and Alan Cadogan to the proceedings, the Rebels took control, firing scores from all angles and holding a six point advantage heading down the stretch.
That was even despite Eoin Murphy pulling off an incredible reaction diving stop to tip Jack O’Connor’s driven effort onto the post, in what will surely go down as the save of the championship.
It was a mammoth task, but the Cats began to chip away - first TJ Reid with two set pieces, then Adrian Mullen - but with the gap at three with seconds ticking away it seemed like all hope was lost.
Then. Pádraig Walsh flicks down a Tim O’Mahony ball, and somehow finds Adrian Mullen unmarked 20 yards out - the Ballyhale Shamrocks man cuts inside, shoots, and the entire county of Kilkenny erupts.
Goal chances galore in extra-time, with James Bergin’s flick and finish coming off the outside of the net, while up the other end Alan Cadogan’s flat ball saw a brilliant Murphy out quickly to smother Alan Connolly’s paddle.
But the one that mattered fell the way of the Rebels, as O’Connor atoned for his earlier miss, smashing home after a driving inside run, and after a run of points on the other side of the whistle, Kieran Kingston’s men had their six point advantage restored.
This time they wouldn’t let it slip.
Whether the Rebels can improve on their flaccid performance against the Treaty in the final in three weeks’ time remains to be seen. That they even earned the chance must go down as the shock of the championship.