Some cynics, those who may know the intricacies of the game of hurling or perhaps believe that they are the Googles of the small ball just may have got it right when they predicted that whoever would win the All-Ireland ‘semi’ between Kilkenny and Cork would end up as All-Ireland runners-up to Limerick.
Their reasoning may have been inspired by respect and admiration for Limerick, the latest wonders of the hurling world.
Their decisions may have been influenced by the so-called science of the game or by what they have seen to date in this year’s championship as The Treaty pushed aside all before them.
Regardless, it now looks as if the majority just may be right although the Cork Rebels will no doubt argue that they can beat Limerick to hoist them back to what they would see as their rightful place at the top of the hurling tree.
The ‘experts’ in the RTE studio were divided 50/50 as to whether Cork would have enough bottle and hurling nous to skin the Kilkenny Cats.
PURRFECT OPPOSITION FOR LIMERICK
With some marvellous hurling and terrific individual performances, the Cats for a time in half one looked like a purrfect final opponent for Limerick.
With Cork playing a soccer-style tactic of many moons ago of the goalkeeper short passing the ball to a defender and receiving it back if a door was slammed, the Cat looked as if it could steal the mouse’s cheddar.
In hindsight, a combination of nervousness at the back by Cork and good offensive play by Kilkenny could have resulted in one or even two first half goals.
But when the cookie crumbled the Cats didn’t bite.
Being let off the hook stirred Cork to greater things and slowly but surely a Kilkenny lead was whittled away.
At half time the Cats and the Rebels were as close as midnight lovers, Kitty the Cat and her mate Tom, on a hot tin roof.
It was 15-14 on points for Kilkenny.
The second half was a horse of a different colour.
Rebel guns blazed and but for miracle-like saves by Eoin Murphy, one of the seven wonders of the goalkeeping world, the Cats could have seen all their nine lives obliterated in one fell swoop.
BUSIEST HAND ON FACTORY FLOOR
There were other warriors, notably Padraig Walsh, Paddy Deegan, Conor Fogarty, Richie Reid, Michael Carey and Adrian Mullen.
But that goalkeeper Murphy was perhaps the busiest hand on the factory floor was a reminder to those who wanted to listen that Cork had a firm grip on the handle of the brush.
It was edge of seat stuff as Cork fought to tighten the screw. But Kilkenny players are made of teak tough stuff and a fight back was as certain as a final whistle as men of courage tackled, jostled and harried each other without any hint of dirty tricks.
Perhaps it is the latter that makes the modern game so appetising and even more beautiful.
It will hardly have gone unnoticed that in the midst of a General Custer-type last stand, aka The Battle of Little Bighorn, a tale of hurling romance and unselfishness was being played out as two of the greats battled for the leading scorer in an epic.
A Cork father and son tale may still be told by barstool storytellers of 100 years’ time.
Cork team boss Kieran Kingston made the bold and brave decision of not selecting his son Shane in the first 15.
WROTE NAME INTO HURLING FOLKLORE
Then as the battle raged, young Kingston was called into action, scored seven points and wrote his name into hurling folklore.
Imagine being a fly on the wall as father and son cracked their eggs at the breakfast table on the morning after the afternoon before.
The passion of hurling was embedded in proud bellies, the loyalty of players, the conviction of family to county highlighted what the game is all about.
And not a toy was thrown out of a pram.
Meanwhile at opposite ends of the pitch, TJ Reid and Patrick Horgan were working their magic wands as they grappled for scores.
Their tallies say everything about their abilities. Horgan scored 15 points, 9 from frees while Reid hit 13, 3 ‘65s’ and 9 frees.
A little bit of luck could have swung the pendulum in favour of Reid as he appeared to be fouled for a penalty but instead was penalized for over carrying the sliotar.
Small margins decide big confrontations.
But love and ambition apart, the fight for a final ticket still raged.
Just when it looked as if Cork had won by a cat’s whisker, up stepped Padraig Walsh, taking advantage of lost possession by Tim O’Mahony.
SMASH AND GRAB ROCKED CORK
Walsh fed Adrian Mullen and the net bulged.
The Fat Lady was about to bring the curtain down in the fifth minute of injury time when a Kilkenny smash and grab rocked Cork.
Cork suffered late casualties, a battle of wounded knee perhaps, as fighting men ran out of puff.
But Kilkenny continued to look as fit as the proverbial fiddle.
Cork dug deep, recovered from being within a hare’s breadth of the exit door and showed true grit as the Cats still refused to die.
Kilkenny have not had many wounds to lick in recent decades but their warriors were finally cut off at the pass in a semi-final that asked many questions that many believe Limerick will have the answers for.
Our hurlers, young and experienced squad did us proud.
So, what next?
All concerned now deserve space, family time, a chance to get their bearings after an unselfish and hugely dedicated campaign of hard work.
Amateur sport is fantastic.
But it is also unbelievably demanding.