Treaty reveal 'extra' edge in a true classic
Limerick 3-32 Cork 2-31 (All-Ireland SHC semi-final)
Try, if you can, to make sense of it all. Limerick are in an All-Ireland senior hurling final for the first time in 11 years and the first word that springs to mind is incredulity.
How did that happen?
There are, in fact, a dizzy array of explanations that combined to produce one of the most spectacular comeback victories of recent years.
Try the following ...
(1) A truly epic contribution from John Kiely's bench, yielding 2-6 in scores and a power-surge of momentum just when all appeared lost.
(2) A cameo from Shane Dowling that was so profound in its influence that he was worthy of serious consideration for Man of the Match, although fellow sub Peter Casey (with four assists) wasn't too far behind.
(3) A run of seven unanswered points from the 64th minute that showcased true nerve from a young team refusing to panic ... so much so that it was Cork left requiring a last-gasp pressure free from Pat Horgan to make it 1-27 apiece and force extra-time.
(4) In the midst of this green onslaught, an injury-time Save of the Season contender from Limerick 'keeper Nickie Quaid, who somehow stretched his hurl to flick the ball away from Séamus Harnedy just as the Cork skipper was about to pull the trigger.
Onto extra-time where, as Leeside bodies succumbed to injury and fatigue and Limerick appeared to grow ever stronger, the second bout of 10 minutes delivered the coup de grace to Cork's summer.
First, in the 84th minute, a penalty thrillingly won by Dowling as he marauded through the middle only to be pushed in the back by Mark Ellis ... up stepped Dowling with the message from the sideline to "go for it" and he duly delivered.
His unstoppable howitzer pushed Limerick four clear. Two minutes, Anthony Nash was beaten again - not be brute power this time but by sheer ingenuity, as another sub, Pat Ryan, created a goal chance out of nothing as he angled in from the right corner ... and then, with one impish flick off his hurl, lobbed the Cork 'keeper.
Thus, Cork had seen a six-point cushion with 63 minutes on the clock) mutate into a seven-point deficit in less than half-an-hour of pure frenzy. In a crowd of 71,073, it was all too much to bear for some of those in red, who started to stream from their seats several minutes before the final bell.Their team did summon a last-second goal (Conor Lehane adjudged to have got the decisive touch to a Horgan free dropped into the square) but it was too little and far too late.
For the second summer running, they have arrived in Croker as Munster champions only to be unhinged by a fourth-quarter meltdown - albeit this one required another 20 minutes to put them out of their misery.
As the dust settles on a weekend of glorious small ball mayhem (two semi-finals going to extra-time, containing seven goals and 123 points) the question is do Limerick deserve their place in the August 19 decider?
Yes, just about ... even if they looked a beaten docket in the aftermath of Lehane's spectacularly finished first goal on 52 minutes. That put Cork five up. Over the next ten minutes, they outscored Limerick three points to two, stretching their lead to six.
In retrospect, Daniel Kearney's injury-enforced exit on 61 minutes was at least partially to blame for the Cork fadeout that followed. Kearney had been a workaholic wonder for the first hour - in his absence around the middle-third, his colleagues lost their way at the worst possible time.
Kearney did return for the first 15 minutes of extra-time but, by then, they had ceded all momentum to Limerick, who led by 1-30 to 1-29 after the first ten additional minutes.
Indeed, if Aaron Gillane had crowned Dowling's clever assist with the goal it deserved (instead of blazing over) they would have been more firmly in control.
Curiously, Gillane had also spurned two goal chances in the first half - kicking the ball over, and then wide, after outfielding Colm Spillane only to lose (or drop) his hurl in the process.
Yet Gillane's overall contribution - 0-6 from play, seven of his eight frees converted - cannot be overlooked. He was immense, his fellow inside raider Graeme Mulcahy not far behind.
Cork will quibble over the legitimacy of Cian Lynch's goal in first half injury-time, citing what they perceived as an earlier foul by Lynch on Kearney before Séamus Flanagan brilliantly released the midfielder. That goal edged Limerick ahead, 1-12 to 0-14, after a riveting half. Not half as pulsating as what was to follow ...