Cork are through to the All-Ireland final for the first time since 2013, after a 1-37 to 1-32 epic victory over Kilkenny after extra-time.
The Rebels led by six in the last 10 minutes of normal time, but a late Adrian Mullen goal levelled it deep into injury-time.
However, Kieran Kingston’s charges came again in extra-time, with Jack O’Connor finding the net to help them to a five-point victory.
The great style war which was anticipated ensued: Cork’s pace against Kilkenny’s ferocity. The Rebels looked to exploit the open spaces with their speed. The Cats gunning to drag their opponents into the trenches.
And it was Kilkenny who dictated the terms of engagement from throw-in. Brian Cody’s charges dominated the breakdowns, hoovering up scraps and producing scores from a range of sources. James Maher, Michael Carey, Adrian Mullen, Richie Reid, Billy Ryan, Eoin Cody and Alan Murphy all provided first-half points, with TJ Reid pulling the strings.
Billy Ryan, in particular, was causing the Rebels’ rearguard real issues, as the Graigue-Ballycallan man hit Robert Downey for three points.
At the back, Kilkenny largely handled the Cork running game successfully, pressurising the distribution at source.
However, the Nore-siders’ tactical ascendancy could not legislate for the genius of Patrick Horgan. The Glen Rovers man fired over 10 points before the break to keep the Rebels right in the contest, and Kilkenny took a slender 0-15 to 0-14 lead into half-time.
Kilkenny opened a four-point lead after the break, but from there Cork took over.
The 42nd-minute introduction of Shane Kingston made a huge impact. The Douglas club man scored seven from play after coming onto the field, as the Rebels stormed six ahead with Kingston’s fifth in the 63rd minute. They could have had a greater cushion, but Eoin Murphy touched O’Connor’s goal attempt onto the post.
However, from there the cracks began to appear. Similar to a virtually-identical position in the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final, the Lee-siders lacked composure to see out the result.
Kilkenny pulled it back to three as the clock ticked on. Horgan had an opportunity from a 65 to seal the game, but put it wide. With one last chance, Kilkenny rolled the dice and poured forward. Tim O’Mahony was dispossessed coming out of defence, and Padraig Walsh picked out Mullen with a beauty of a ball. The Ballyhale man made no mistake, burying it into the net to make it 1-26 to 0-19 and force extra-time.
There may have been parallels to 2018 in how Cork let the six-point lead slip in normal time. But, unlike three years ago, they had a bench to make a real impact, with subs scoring 0-11.
As the play became looser and scrappier in extra-time, Cork’s speed merchants came to the fore. Alan Cadogan played O’Connor down the left wing, and the Sarsfields flyer took off, burning the Kilkenny defence and rattling the net.
Cork led 1-32 to 1-29 at the halfway mark.
Their tails were up from there, and they were not going to let a lead slip a second time. Alan Cadogan, Declan Dalton and Seamus Harnedy all added scores, as they held out for a deserved 1-37 to 1-32 victory.
Cork’s Croke Park hoodoo has come to an end, winning their first match at HQ since 2013. They are back in an All-Ireland final, and will be gunning to end another wait in two weeks’ time as they hunt a first Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph since 2005.
1. Patrick Collins
2. Niall O’Leary
3. Robert Downey
4. Sean O’Donoghue
6. Mark Coleman
7. Ger Merllerick
5. Tim O’Mahony
8. Darragh Fitzgibbon
9. Luke Meade
10. Conor Cahalane
11. Seamus Harnedy
12. Robbie O’Flynn
13. Shane Barrett
14. Patrick Horgan
15. Jack O’Connor
Eoin Cadogan for Ger Mellerick (36th minute)
Shane Kingston for Darragh Fitzgibbon (42nd minute)
Alan Cadogan for Shane Barrett (47th minute)
Damian Cahalane for Robbie O’Flynn (68th minute)
Alan Connolly for Conor Cahalane (71st minute)
Sean O’Leary Hayes for Mark Coleman (10th minute ET)
Darragh Fitzgibbon for Luke Meade (14th minute ET)
Declan Dalton for Jack O’Connor (16th minute ET)
1. Eoin Murphy
2. Tommy Walsh
3. Huw Lawlor
4. Paddy Deegan
5. James Maher
6. Padraig Walsh
7. Michael Carey
8. Conor Fogarty
9. Richie Reid
10. Adrian Mullen
14. TJ Reid
11. John Donnelly
13. Eoin Cody
12. Billy Ryan
15. Alan Murphy
Martin Keoghan for John Donnelly (half-time)
Cillian Buckley for Richie Reid (51st minute)
Walter Walsh for Alan Murphy (52nd minute)
James Bergin for Martin Keoghan (60th minute)
Richie Hogan for Eoin Cody (half-time ET)
John Donnelly for Billy Ryan (18th minute ET)
Sky Sports’ GAA coverage continues next weekend, with both All-Ireland SFC semi-finals live on Sky Sports Arena.
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