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Ranking The 10 Greatest Hurling Championship Matches Of The 21st Century

Ranking The 10 Greatest Hurling Championship Matches Of The 21st Century
By Conor Neville Updated

We've ranked the greatest Gaelic football championship matches of the 21st century, now we move to the hurling. At the risk of deterring you seeking out the football list, we should tell you that the Dublin-Kerry All-Ireland semi-final of 2013 was placed at No. 1 in our list.

It was during that game that co-commentator Tommy Carr observed "this is such a great game. It's almost like a game of hurling." There you have it. Hurling. A sport which produces great games. Here are ten of the best.

10. Cork v Wexford, 2003 All-Ireland semi-final drawn game

Easily forgotten from the vantage point of 2017.

The Wexford class of the mid-noughties didn't reach the heights of their 90s  counterparts but they did reach a couple of All-Ireland semi-finals on the bounce, winning one Leinster title.

Cork would see them off on both occasions, but needed a replay to do so in 2003. The drawn 2003 semi-final was terrifically high-scoring game enlivened by a thrilling finish. It is best remembered for Rory McCarthy smashing home the equaliser at the death and securing Wexford a second chance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMhZGJqeSuU

9. Kilkenny v Limerick, 2014 All-Ireland semi-final

Easily the lowest scoring game included. The match is vividly remembered for the tenacity of the losing Limerick side and the shocking weather.

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The game is also responsible for the most 21st century moment in the history of Croke Park. Though a neutral, two members of the Balls team decided to attend the match on their day off. In a moment of foolish impulsiveness, they decided to watch the match on the Hill.

At one stage in the second half, the rain became so unbearable that many supporters had to momentarily depart their posts on the Hill and dive into the bowels of the terrace for some respite. There, by the burger bar, those in search of shelter would seen a few lads in the late 20s, huddled around a phone trying to pick up the game on the RTE Player. An extraordinary sight but, alas, the Croke Park wifi would let them down.

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As for the game itself, Limerick seemed to be on top for long stretches of the second half. Their defensive line of Richie McCarthy and eventual Man of the Match Seamus Hickey were in commanding form. Kilkenny dug very deep with Richie Power snaffling a late goal to allow KK eke out a victory. It was obvious from the post-match interviews that Cody got a serious kick out of that win.

8. Tipperary v Kilkenny, 2010 All-Ireland final

As with Kerry in 1982, Kilkenny's quest for a historic five-in-a-row was halted at the final hurdle, albeit in a slightly less dramatic fashion this time around.

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By the time Lar Corbett whipped home his 3rd goal and Tipp's 4th, his team were already midway through their victory lap. The last score ensured an 8-point win.

Resembled the 2016 final in plenty of ways, save for the weather. The margin of victory was similar and both games were adorned by a historically great performance from a marquee Tipp forward.

Should nose ahead of 2016 final in the eyes of posterity by virtue of the greater quality of the Kilkenny side.

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7.  Clare v Cork, 2013 All-Ireland final drawn game

In 2013, the hurling championship seemed to experiment with some mad hallucinogenic, one which produced bizarre results. For the first time in half a century, Kilkenny went through a championship season without reaching Croke Park. They were beaten by the Dubs after a replay and then soundly dispatched by Cork in Thurles.

Their chief rivals Tipperary also gave headquarters a wide berth. Limerick surprisingly turned them over in the Gaelic Grounds and then they were eked out by KK in a suffocating game in Nowlan Park. 2012 finalists Galway barely showed up at all, exiting limply against Clare in the quarter-final, as if the previous year had never happened.

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And so, we had the startling quartet of Limerick, Dublin, Clare and Cork at the semi-final stage, all of whom have failed abysmally to reach those heights since.

Clare and Cork met in the final. Those casual followers who blithely consult 'tradition' when predicting outcomes presumed that Cork would win out. In the end, Cork were both very lucky and a tad unlucky to finish level. Clare dominated  proceedings and played all the hurling. But Cork kept them sucking them back in with a few goals at opportune moments in the second half. At the death, Pat Horgan appeared to have won it with a magnificent point to make the score 3-16 to 0-24.

It would have been larceny but Brian Gavin, whose refereeing riled Davy all day (wouldn't be the first), allowed an extra 30 seconds, from which corner-back Domhnaill O'Donovan mined a dramatic late score. Marty  Morrissey exclaimed "Holy Moses" while Clare FM's Syl O'Connor roared himself hoarse.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg8_yRtxqQA

6. Galway v Kilkenny, 2005 All-Ireland semi-final

One of the most famous games of the noughties, and the final championship match Kilkenny would lose that decade. The previous year, Conor Hayes tenure as Galway manager seemed to have ended after a frightful mauling at the hands of Kilkenny in a Thurles qualifier.

But the new mood of patient tolerance in the Galway county board enabled Hayes to continue on for another year. Ironically, he may have benefited from the incomprehensibly harsh dismissal of his predecessor Noel Lane in 2002. How things changed in 2005. Galway beat Tipperary thanks to a late surge in the All-Ireland quarter-final and then did battle with Kilkenny in the semi-final.

All told, it was the kind of game for which the term "swashbuckling" could have been invented. Ger Farragher smashed in two first half goals and popped over free after free. David Tierney, booed by his own supporters three years earlier, was in superb form in midfield. Things got really surreal as Galway finished up with five goals, Niall Healy scoring a second half hat-trick. Galway led by ten points at one stage but this lead was whittled down to three in the finish. DJ Carey bowed out of inter-county hurling afterwards.

5. Galway v Tipperary, 2015 All-Ireland hurling semi-final

By common consensus, the only decent match of the drab 2015 hurling championship. Galway got little love from the pundits beforehand. The critics, always unwilling to give 'flaky' Galway the benefit of the doubt, merely rolled their eyes at their comprehensive defeats of Cork and Dublin. These results were explained away with reference to the deficiencies of the opposition.

It was presumed that they were just a hurdle to be negotiated before Tipp could get another crack at Kilkenny. We were treated to a spectacular match in which Seamus Callanan hit 3-9 and still ended up out of the championship. Noel McGrath, returning from serious illness, looked to have won it late for Tipp with a 69th score. The headline writers had their fairytale. But Jason Flynn fired over an equaliser before sub Shane Maloney hit a dramatic winner. It offered Galway supporters the novel opportunity to witness their team win a one-point match.

4. Clare v Cork, 2013 All-Ireland final replay

A bit of a dilemma over whether to select the drawn 2013 final over the crazy replay. While the drawn match had an unforgettable denouement, we feel the replay contained more thrills and spills over the full 70 minutes.

The suckers for tradition had Clare pegged as underdogs the first day. The first game convinced many to change their prediction for the replay. It fully awakened folk to the style and exuberance of Clare's hurling.

Davy threw teenager Shane O'Donnell into the fray. He had his hat-trick completed by the 20th minute. Better still, Cork replied to the challenge with Anthony Nash nailing another of his distinctive penalties (a sight we no longer see thanks to health and safety). When Seamus Harnedy pulled on a ball, directing into the corner in the second half, Cork went level.

No sooner were Cork on terms, that the young Clare forward line sprung into action, Conor McGrath blasting a goal. That wasn't that. Clare pulled six points clear entering injury time and yet still it felt like the game wasn't done. Cork rustled up a goal and bombarded the Clare penalty area with high balls. Clare sub Seadna Morey released the pressure and from his breakaway run, fellow sub Darach Honan would collect the ball, feint inside and ultimately walk the ball over the line.

It was six points in the end but somehow it didn't feel like that. Scores came so freely that six points felt like nothing.

Not everyone was so enthralled apparently. According to Denis Walsh in the Sunday Times, Brian Cody was said to have felt the match "lacked fibre".

3. Kilkenny v Tipperary, 2009 All-Ireland final 

The beginning of the modern Tipperary-Kilkenny rivalry. They were due to meet in the final the year before but Waterford's stunned a rusty Tipp in the All-Ireland semi-final - yet another example of the Munster champions failing to show in the penultimate game.

Nothing would prevent the two facing off in the 2009 showdown, however, with Tipperary demolishing a weak Limerick team who fluked their way into the last 4.

The game was a thriller. The first proper contest in an All-Ireland final in a few years. Kilkenny's dominance of the scene was never more oppressive than at the end of 2008 but in Liam Sheedy's Tipp they now had worthy foes. For the first 55 minutes there was never more than two points in it as both sides whipped over points, keeping pace with the other. On 52 minutes, Benny Dunne took a swipe at Hurler of the Year elect Tommy Walsh and was sent off.

One member of the Balls team was attending Electric Picnic that day and was trying to stay abreast of developments at Croker via the medium of text updates from family members. Regular picnickers will appreciate that the majority of phones are usually dead by Sunday and the coverage is desperate in any event.

An interested neutral on the day itself, he was, like most of his kind, hungry to see change at the top. And so, naturally, he was willing on Tipperary to prevent the Kilkenny four-in-a-row.

His text updates held out the promise of an upset all afternoon. As Florence and her machine busily got to work on stage, the updates came in an excited flurry.

"Tipp lead by 2 points'

'Tipp lead by 3 points'

'Tipp ahead by 2 now'

'Tipp now up by 4'.

At which point, without warning, the flow of texts stopped rather abruptly. After 15 minutes, our hero texted his informant to see how the game had ended.

"Kilkenny won by five points"

"Ah for f..."

Afterwards, Marty had a temerity to raise the issue of the penalty and received an earful from a previously jubilant Brian Cody.

2. Waterford v Cork, 2004 Munster final

We learned the unsurprising fact that John Mullane loves his county and that this feeling was wholly reciprocated.

Probably remains the most celebrated Munster Final of the modern era. Possibly of all time. Cork won a hugely exciting Munster Final in 2003 and entered the game as favourites. With the players strike a distant memory and with Brian Corcoran returning from exile, Donal O'Grady's team were gunning for an All-Ireland.

While they got there in the end, their plans were interrupted by a one point loss in a memorable Munster Final. The signature moment was Paul Flynn's audacious dipped topspin free. A point was presumed but Flynn somehow manufactured a three-pointer.

Seamus Prendergast hoisted over the winning point with a minute remaining and then Ken McGrath plucked a ball out of the clouds to ensure that Cork didn't get a pop at an equaliser. The game was so frenetic that Dan Shanahan said he was asking Sean Og O'Hailpin for the score late on. At that stage, casting your eyes up to the Thurles scoreboard was too risky.

The game was so enthralling that RTE decided to ignore the relatively drab All-Ireland final and instead make an arty feature on the Munster Final.

Go read Balls.ie's Paul Ring's wonderful account of attending the match as a Cork supporter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peAFdYkxbVo

1. Kilkenny v Tipperary, 2014 All-Ireland final drawn game

The Tipp-Kilkenny rivalry has provided us with numerous contenders for the title of greatest All-Ireland final of all-time. But the drawn 2014 stands out even amid that company.

It was the highest scoring All-Ireland final since Cork-Kilkenny in 1970, a match which fell during that brief interregnum with championship matches were 80 minutes long. Of Tipperary's 1-28, 1-24 was struck from play.

In a clue to the quality of the match, there were no wides hit between the 44th and the 72nd minute. Overall, there were 54 scores and 9 wides in total.

In the analysis booth afterwards, Ger Loughnane looked and sounded like a man who had passed away and gone to hurling heaven.

It was breathtaking. Absolutely exhilarating. Heroic performances on both sides. Mistakes by referees, by players. Brilliant scores. 54 scores and only nine wides in the whole game. That'll tell you the quality you had today. You had an All-Ireland final which took the game to a new level altogether. Two terrific teams and played in the very best of sporting manners that you could ask for. It is everything that we love in the game of hurling was out there today.

Read more: Ranking The 10 Greatest Football Championship Games Of The 21st Century

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