Minors rise Lazarus-like again!
They have been precariously close to the precipice more than once this season, but the Cork minor footballers produced what can only be described as the ultimate in gutsy comebacks at Croke Park last Sunday.
With 44 minutes gone in a rip-roaring All-Ireland semi-final, it looked odds-on that they were about to be pushed over the edge by a Galway side that had claimed a fifth goal to move 5-6 to 2-6 ahead. But the Leeside youngsters were in no mood to give up the ghost, and, following the boost of a goal from Kevin Hallissey, they staged a remarkable rally, culminating in a match-winning pointed free by Brian Hurley deep in stoppage time.
It was an amazing display of courage and resilience by any standards, reinforcing the notion that this is a very special group of players. They may not be the most talented ever to represent the Rebel County at this level, but they clearly possess a never-say-die attitude that sets them apart.
Over the course of this enthralling encounter, they shipped a series of demoralising body-blows that would have crippled a team of lesser resolve.
They were stung by a goal in the seventh minute which gave Galway the lead for the first time, 1-1 to 0-1, and, having battled their way back to equality, their defence was breached tellingly again shortly before the interval. They drew level once more early in the second half only to concede two more goals in fairly quick succession.
Even after they turned on the power in the last quarter to pull back a nine-point deficit, their character was sternly tested after Galway twice inched ahead by the minimum in the dying minutes. Again, however, Cork refused to drop their heads, and Brian Hurley tilted the issue in their favour when slotting over a couple of pressure frees at the death.
No doubt, relief was their overriding emotion when the last whistle shrilled, but, taking everything into account, they were the better team, and they certainly dictated matters territorially for long periods. That was due in no small way to the influence exerted by Damien Cahalane, who had a massive game at midfield, but wing back Jamie Wall and wing forward John O'Rourke were others to the fore as Cork enjoyed the lion's share of the possession in the first half.
Mark Sugrue was regularly involved too on the 40 as Cork began to warm to their task in response to Galway's first goal, scored with aplomb by corner forward Peadar Ó Griofa after wing forward Niall Walsh had done much of the spadework.
Yet, Galway, with their forwards making regularly headway against an unconvincing Cork rearguard, led by 1-4 to 0-3, midway through the first half. With Cahalane and Wall powering Cork forward, however, Galway were largely forced to fight a rearguard action in the second quarter, and, almost inevitably, a major breakthrough arrived in the 29th minute when Sugrue, Wall and O'Rourke were involved in the lead-up to an equalising goal from Kevin Hallissey.
Prior to that, Wall had unhinged the Galway defence with one of several probing runs only to play a poor pass to Hallissey, who was unable to steer the ball home from a tight angle.
Later, Brian Hurley, put clean through following good work by Sugrue and Hallissey, was foiled by a fine save from Galway keeper James Keane, so Hallissey's goal, in light of their relentless pressure, was no more than Cork deserved. It was negated almost immediately, however, by Peadar Ó Griofa, allowing Galway to go in at the break 2-5 to 1-5 to the good.
Matthew O'Shea had settled down well after a shaky start at full back for Cork, and he opened brightly on the resumption, instigating an attack which also involved Wall and the lion-hearted Cahalane, whose delivery into the danger-zone led to Brian Hurley engineering a superb goal.
Again Galway responded swiftly through Niall Walsh, who, having had a shot charged down by Cork corner back Darren Murphy, regained possession to drill the ball to the net. That underlined Cork's vulnerability in the full back line which became even more pronounced after Galway's Shane Maughan thundered into the picture at full forward against Matthew O'Shea.
Maughan was the chief architect of the brace of goals scored by Conor Rabbite which helped to propel Galway into a seemingly unassailable lead approaching the three-quarter stage.
It didn't take Cork long to show that they weren't yet ready to be counted out, with Kevin Hallissey goaling with style a minute later after substitute Daniel MacEoin had knocked a high ball from Damien Cahalane into his path.
They proceeded to pile on the pressure in the wake of Hallissey's revitalising strike, with Sugrue, Wall, Hallissey, Hurley, from a free, and Cahalane sharing five points as they cut the gap to the minimum by the 54th minute. Hallissey tied things up three minutes later after effective substitutes Conor O'Sullivan and Daniel MacEoin had combined to create the opening, and Galway appeared to be on the ropes.
In a bid to arrest their slide, Galway brought Shane Maughan out to midfield, and it almost did the trick, as he exchanged points with Brian Hurley from frees before posting an excellent point in the final minute of normal time.
Following the kickout, John O'Rourke, whose finishing wasn't up to scratch on occasions, won possession for Cork to earn a free which Brian Hurley converted, and then Hurley, taking a pass from substitute Tomas Hegarty, made a strong run up the left wing where he had his jersey pulled by Galway's James Shaughnessy.
Hurley did the needful from the resultant free to give Cork the lead for the first time since Mark Sugrue had opened their account in the third minute. It capped a stunning resurgence to which Cahalane, Wall, O'Rourke, Hallissey and Hurley made outstanding contributions, with Tomas Clancy showing improved form to make his presence felt at centre back in the closing stages.
Scorers - Cork: K Hallissey 2-2, B Hurley 1-5, 0-5 frees, M Sugrue and D Cahalane 0-2 each, J O'Rourke, D Fitzgerald, free, D MacEoin and J Wall 0-1 each. Galway: C Rabbitte 2-1, P Ó Griofa 2-1, 0-1 free, N Walsh 1-1, S Maughan 0-3, 0-1 free, N Quinn and C O'Neill 0-1 each.
Cork: D Hanrahan (Douglas), J Goggin (St Finbarr's), M O'Shea (Glengarriff), D Murphy (Ballincollig), D Lester (Bishopstown), T Clancy (Clonakilty), J Wall (Kilbrittain), J Burn (St Finbarr's), D Cahalane (Castlehaven), J O'Rourke (Carbery Rangers), M Sugrue (Bandon), A Cronin (Nemo Rangers), K Hallissey (Eire Og), D Fitzgerald (Kiskeam), B Hurley (Castlehaven). Subs: D MacEoin (Ilen Rovers) for Fitzgerald, K Fulignati (Nemo Rangers) for Murphy, C O'Sullivan (Clyda Rovers) for Goggin, S O'Mahony (Gabriel Rangers) for Sugrue, T Hegarty (O'Donovan Rossa) for Lester.
Galway: J Keane, C MacDonnacha, J Shaughnessy, P Varley, M Loughnane, M Kelly, J Vaughan, E Commins, T Flynn, N Quinn, F Ó Curraoin, N Walsh, P Ó Griofa, C Rabbitte, S Maughan. Subs: D Burke for Vaughan, C O'Neill for Flynn, F Ó Bearra for Quinn, A Varley for Walsh, D Black for MacDonnacha (injured).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).
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