Sensational Limerick captured their eighth All-Ireland senior hurling crown with a thoroughly deserved 3-16 to 2-18 victory over Galway at Croke Park.
Having endured four-and-a-half decades of hurt since their last Liam MacCarthy Cup win in 1973, the Treaty County looked home and hosed when substitute Shane Dowling bagged their third major under Hill 16 in the 68th minute to put eight points between the teams, 3-15 to 0-16, Graeme Mulcahy and Tom Morrissey having also notched precious three-pointers in either half, while 20-year-old Kyle Hayes (0-4) and captain Declan Hannon (0-2) also arrowed over inspirational scores for the youthful victors.
Galway, the defending champions, hadn't shown up, but they staged a remarkable late rally as goals from Conor Whelan and Joe Canning (free) followed by a point from substitute Niall Burke made it a one-point match with six of the eight announced minutes of injury time played.
On 77 minutes, Mulcahy steadied the ship with the winners' first point since the 44th minute and John Kiely's men held on for a famous win despite a late pointed Canning '65'. Canning had a late chance to salvage a draw from a long-range free in the 80th minute but Galway - who will be full of regret tonight - instead fell to their first championship defeat since losing a semi-final to Tipperary by a point in August, 2016.
Mulcahy's bizarre 16th-minute major had the Shannonsiders ahead by 1-10 to 0-9 at the end of a nervy first half where both sides were guilty of a catalogue of uncharacteristic wides (21 between them).
The Leinster champions failed to perform in any meaningful way before the break and could consider themselves fortunate to be still in contention at the short whistle, although they probably should have had a free-out when Seamus Flanagan barged Padraic Mannion out of the way in the build-up to Mulcahy's major.
Points from Aaron Gillane, Hayes and Mulcahy had the Treaty County three points to no score ahead inside five minutes; they completely dominated those early exchanges but were also guilty of five wides during that period.
Canning settled Galway with a converted '65' on seven minutes and captain David Burke followed up with the holders' second 30 seconds later before the outstanding Cian Lynch and Mannion traded inspirational points as the challengers led by 0-4 to 0-3 after ten minutes.
Darragh O'Donovan expertly doubled the difference but Galway led for the first and only time on 15 minutes following a brace of excellent Canning frees and a Joseph Cooney finish between the Hill 16 posts.
Limerick reclaimed the lead when Mulcahy somehow bundled the sliothar over the line (or did a defender inadvertently get the last touch?) from close range after James Skehill tried to smother the ball but lost sight of it. It rose almost miraculously into the air and spun over the line. A scrappy and fortuitous goal but a huge score in the context of the match.
Limerick captain Declan Hannon lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup. ©INPHO/Bryan Keane.
Morrissey made it 1-6 to 0-6 and there was a flurry of wides at either end before Hannon stretched the Limerick lead out to four. Hannon notched his second in the 28th minute, cancelled out instantly by a second from Galway captain Burke.
Canning (free) and Joseph Cooney halved the deficit but Gillane (free) and Flanagan replied in kind to give their team a four-point interval cushion.
Hayes and Joseph Cooney - the only Galway forward to score from play before the break - traded the first two scores after the restart before Diarmaid Byrnes and Hayes left six between the teams with 40 minutes played. It was an eight-point game with ten minutes played in the second half as Hayes fired his third since the restart and Gillane steered over his second pointed free, 1-15 to 0-10.
Canning pegged back a brace from play on 51 and 53 minutes but the game looked done and dusted in the 54th minute when last year's All-Ireland U21 winning captain Morrissey juggled the sliothar on his hurl and fired a bullet to the Hill 16 net - 2-15 to 0-12. But nine points is a dangerous lead.
Canning (3) and David Burke had the gap back to just five points with three minutes remaining but Dowling supplied the winners' third goal with a miscued, bouncing finish past substitute goalkeeper Fergal Flannery to the far corner in the 68th minute after a good run and pass from fellow replacement Peter Casey with the Galway defence gone AWOL.
Whelan gave Galway hope with an excellent catch and finish to the net in the first of eight additional minutes and Canning planted his free in the top left corner of the net before Burke dramatically made it a one-point match. Surely not?...
Mulcahy's point on 77 minutes was priceless and meant that Canning's late pointed '65' mattered not. From the holders' perspective, it was too little, far too late.
A last-gasp free from inside his own half proved to be beyond the Portumna man's range and Limerick held on for victory. Having beaten Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny and now Galway, they are the most deserving of champions. Looking at the quality inherent in this young side, another 45-year wait is unlikely!
Limerick - N Quaid; S Finn, M Casey, R English; D Byrnes (0-1), D Hannon (0-2), D Morrissey; D O'Donovan (0-1), C Lynch (0-1); G Hegarty, K Hayes (0-4), T Morrissey (1-1); A Gilane (0-3, 2f), S Flanagan (0-1), G Mulcahy (1-2). Subs: R McCarthy for P Casey, S Dowling (1-0) for G Hegarty, P Casey for S Flanagan, W O'Donoghue for D O'Donovan, T Condon for R English.
Galway - J Skehill; A Tuohy, Daithi Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion (0-1), G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke (0-3); J Cooney (0-3), J Canning (1-10, 1-5f, 0-2'65), J Glynn; C Whelan (1-0), C Cooney, C Mannion. Subs: N Burke (0-1) for C Mannion, P Killeen for J Hanbury, J Flynn for C Cooney, S Loftus for J Coen, F Flannery for J Skehill.
Referee - J Owens.