It’s safe the say that ranking this down to a Top Five was a challenge. Thirty-seven All-Ireland semi-finals have taking place since the turn of the millennium, with fifteen of these truly falling under the ‘great game of hurling’ category. Croke Park has seen lots of drama unfold over the last eighteen seasons and here are our favourite five games since the year 2000.
5. Cork 2-20 Wexford 3-17 – 2003
This game pips last seasons cracking encounters between Kilkenny and Waterford. 2016 may be fresher in the memories when Austin Gleeson announced himself to the hurling world and Eoin Murphy’s dramatic catch kept the Cats hopes for three-in-a-row alive, but the drawn game between Cork and Wexford from 2003 was a game that had everything.
Cork had surprised many by winning the Munster title after their first winter on strike. Wexford on the other hand had also surprised many by beating Waterford in the qualifiers, but a struggle to beat Antrim in the quarter-final led to most expecting a routine win for Cork.
But Wexford got off to a great start with an early goal from Paul Codd as Cork struggled to get up and running after the much publicised provincial success layoff. But Cork came back in force after the ball was thrown in. Setanta Ó’hAilpín led the charge and another goal from Joe Deane looked to have Cork back in the first All-Ireland final since 1999.
Cork had a three point lead going into stoppage time. Damien Fitzhenry launched one last attack. Wexford needed a goal to force a replay. A long delivery broke to Mitch Jordan who fed Rory McCarthy, who blasted the ball past Donal Óg Cusack to level the game.
Cork would go on to win the replay comfortably, but this was cracking conclusion to a cracking contest.
4. Limerick 5-11 Waterford 2-15 – 2007
This game was a repeat of that year’s Munster final. Limerick had beaten Tipperary after an incredible trilogy, but Waterford would account for Limerick. Dan Shanahan’s goals were the main difference that day. They were the difference again when Waterford beat Cork after a replay and it looked as if the Déise were finally ready for an assault on Liam McCarthy.
Limerick shot out of the blocks with goals from Donie Ryan and Andrew O’Shaughnessy. Waterford fought back and kept themselves in the game. Donie Ryan scored a second cracking goal just after half-time. The Déise withdrew John Mullane and Paul Flynn as they tried everything to win the game.
It was tight as the game entered its climax. Limerick were one point ahead when they were awarded a penalty. Andrew O’Shaughnessy could have taken the point, but he stepped up and burried the sliotar to the back of the Waterford net.
Waterford kept responding, adding two scores in reply, but Brian Begley would add another goal in stoppage time to cap off a brilliant game and a brilliant win for Limerick.
3. Kilkenny 1-20 Tipperary 1-16 – 2002
This is another game that some may struggle to remember but it topped the list when we put a similar collection together at this stage of last seasons championship. This was a great game between two of hurling’s greatest rivals. The scoreline may not stand out as one of a classic, but it really was a great game.
Before throw-in, all attention was focused on DJ Carey. Having missed the whole season through injury, Kilkenny remained the most impressive team in the championship. But Brian Cody has no hesitation in putting DJ Carey straight back into the starting line up.
The game was a tight contest throughout. Eoin Kelly starred for Tipp in the first half while Henry Shefflin was building his reputation as one of the country’s finest hurlers.
The game entered the melting pot and it was going to take a moment of magic to seperate the sides and that was when DJ Carey produced his trademark. He picked up a ball around 50 yards out from goal where he set off on one his trademark solo runs. Leaving the Tipp defence in his path, he played in Jimmy Coogan who finished to put the Cats ahead.
DJ would add one final insurance score to put Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final against Clare.
2. Galway 0-22 Tipperary 1-18 – 2017
The third edition of this epic trilogy is straight into number two. Last Sunday may not have been the most free flowing hurling game we have witnessed, but it possessed all that is needed for a cracking contest. Both sides went hammer and tongs for 70 minutes and for the third year in a row, one single point separated them.
Both teams brought real physicality to the game. Gearóid McInerney managed to put Padraic Maher to the ground, Joe Canning managed the same with Michael Breen but all over the field players put each other under huge amounts of pressure.
While the game never opened up, a lot of that game down to difficult hurling conditions, but more so a case of two great teams cancelling each other out. There was never anything between the sides. The game could have gone either way.
For the third edition, the headlines went to Joe Canning and Galway due to his winning score from the right hand touchline under all sorts of pressure. It was a great end to a great trilogy of games, Will 2018 provide another one?
1. Tipperary 2-19 Galway 2-18 – 2016
The second instalment in what has become an incredible trilogy of games between Tipperary and Galway arrives in at number one. These games don’t just appear at the top due to being clear in people’s memory banks. These two teams have now provided three games of the highest quality in the last three seasons.
The 2016 edition was an exceptional game. Tipperary had sauntered through the Munster Championship handily accounting for Cork, Limerick and Waterford. They had been extremely impressive. But they now had the long layoff and Croke Park expectations to deal with.
Galway froze in a second half against Kilkenny in Croke Park for the second year in a row, but got themselves back on track with a rebounding win over Clare in the quarter-final. Tipp were fancied by many to win this game easily, but it did not materialise that way.
A fast start by Galway saw them take charge with an early Conor Cooney goal. Daithí Burke was nulifying Seamus Callanan as the Tribesmen were the better team. Two injury blows were dealt just minutes before half-time as Adrain Tuohy and Joe Canning were both unable to take to the field foe the second half.
A Joseph Cooney goal just after half time left Galway in a good position and Tipp were in need of something special. That something special arrived from Bubbles O’Dwyer who finished one of the finest hurling goals ever seen and a second goal from John McGrath followed soon after.
The final whistle went and there was one single point between the sides. Tipp prevailed, but only just.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we look ahead to the meeting of Waterford and Cork and discussed all the latest GAA action, including whether football’s Super 8s is doomed to failure.