In the last on the series on the greatest matches he ever witnessed, RTÉ GAA commentator Darragh Maloney looks back at that 2018 All-Ireland SHC semi-final between Limerick and Cork.


My last match selection is a more recent one and is being featured on The Sunday Game this weekend (RTÉ2, 9.30pm). It is the 2018 All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Limerick and Cork and it is a classic.

It came 24 hours after the other semi-final between Galway and Clare ended in a draw following extra-time. That year the hurling championship gripped the nation and that weekend brought it to another level.

Cork were back-to-back Munster champions, having defeated Clare in the final while Limerick had finished third in the new group system which threw up so many great matches that summer.

John Kiely's young team had to beat Carlow and then Kilkenny to make it to the last four. The victory over Kilkenny was their first since their last Liam MacCarthy success in 1973.

That win was crucial for them with what lay ahead against a team, under John Meyler, who had gone through Munster unbeaten and looked in great shape to get back to the final after a run of losing semi-finals. Ultimately it was not to be for Cork but they were so close to the winning post.

The big memory for me from that afternoon was the save from Limerick goalkeeper Nickie Quaid to deny Cork captain Seamus Harnedy what seemed a certain goal in the 72nd minute. Limerick had come from six points down to draw level but a Cork goal at that late stage would surely have won it for them.

Quaid was fearless and calm as he got out to block down the ball with Harnedy just eight metres from goal. There were three Limerick defenders behind Quaid when he made the stop but you would have put your house on Harnedy scoring from that distance.

Aaron Gillane put Limerick ahead with the next attack and Cork needed Patrick Horgan to put over a free to force extra-time.

The 70-odd minutes of hurling featured so many brilliant displays. Gillane was a massive threat all through with frees and from open play and he could have had a couple of goals but shooting with the boot let him down as he found himself without his hurley several times during the match.

Graeme Mulcahy, Kyle Hayes and Cian Lynch also stood out for the eventual winners while for Cork, Conor Lehane burst into life that Sunday with a brilliant goal, Patrick Horgan did his stuff from the frees with Dara Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman also impressing.

While the save from Quaid was crucial, the way John Kiely used his substitutes bench was just as important. Shane Dowling was brought on in the 57th minute when Limerick were losing by six points and he was superb.

Managers talk about impact from the bench and Dowling gave his team that and more, especially when Limerick had so many young players in the starting 15. Dowling hit over a long range place-ball with his first touch and scored from play a minute later but Cork went six points clear again in the 62nd minute and seemed to be on their way.

The Munster champions had very talented players on their bench but Limerick could call on the likes of Dowling and then Pat Ryan who was introduced with seven minutes of normal-time left.

Cork didn't score for the next 12 minutes while Gillane, Hayes and Dowling scored the six points to bring them level. Then came the Quaid save and the exchanging of points which meant extra-time.

Limerick had a one-point lead at the end of the first period of extra-time but took control at the start of the second with two goals in two minutes from substitutes. Shane Dowling was pushed for the penalty which he brilliantly converted and then Pat Ryan scored the goal which sealed the win and broke the Cork resistance.

Cork had little left to give at that stage as they drifted seven points behind but they did score a goal with pretty much the last puck of the game to leave them four in arrears at the end.

We had been treated to a total of 78 points from the two teams in a gripping game which sent Limerick to the final.

If you get the chance, have a look at it again tonight. You won’t be disappointed!