By Noel Dundon
All-Ireland champions Tipperary got the defence of their crown off to a flying start in Semple Stadium on Sunday afternoon last when they welcomed The Rebels of Cork but sent them home with a nine point beating in toe.
A game which lived up to expectation in terms of excitement, if not in actual hurling standard, this was the one Tipperary had waited for since their drubbing on Leeside twelve months ago. The wounds cut deep on that day, and while Cork threatened Tipperary’s advantage on Sunday and very nearly scuppered a home victory, the wave of blue and gold panache and style came bursting through in the last ten minutes, once defensive difficulties had been sorted out.
Declan Ryan’s men will have learned much from this top drawer encounter played in front of 31,231 people. They showed flashes of the brilliance which landed the Liam McCarthy Cup in September, but also showed a degree of frailty which gave Cork the upper hand back in May. There is plenty to work on therfore, and the management should be credited with the changes they made to the formation when the pressure came on – they worked, and Tipp’s nine point win, although comfortable looking on the scoreboard, left a degree of seat shifting for a time.
As usual Semple Stadium was in fantastic order for this encounter and with the day dry, but dull, the expectation was that a great game was in store. Certainly conditions would not impede the quality of the fare, whatever about anything else.
Cork came to town hoping to dump Tipperary out of the Munster championship for the second year in succession. And, while Tipp had the last laugh in 2010 by emerging as All-Ireland champions, there was a very definite determination on the part of the Premier County players, not to alloy the same thing to happen again.
By the end of the first quarter Tipp held a 0-5 to 0-2 lead having played with the aid of the breeze – Seamus Callanan (2), Eoin Kelly (2) and Patrick Maher bagging their points. However, the All-Ireland champions had survived two early scares when Brendan Cummins saved brilliantly from Paudie O’Sullivan in the 1st minute and then Pat Horgan drove wide with the goal at his mercy. Had either of these strikes been on target, a different complexion would have materialised. Much of the ammunition for the Cork danger men was coming from out the field and it took Tipp some time to get to grips with this – Patrick Cronin, in particular doing a lot of hurling.
To their credit, Cork came back from the first quarter deficit, to lead, with four points without reply from Patrick Horgan (2), Cian McCarthy and Ben O’Connor – the link up play from midfield and half back was beginning to take affect and Tipp looked out of sorts and a little confused at times.
But, the crucial break came in the 28th minute when superb work from Patrick Maher set up 2010 Hurler of the Year Lar Corbett who blasted to the net past Donal Og Cusack – Maher’s role should not be under stated as he dispossessed Cork defender Stephen McDonnell and put the ball on a plate for Corbett who was perfectly placed.
Three minutes later Cusack was beaten again and left prostrated after Tipp captain Eoin Kelly fired a fantastic goal having caught a long deliver, shaken off two tackles and burying his shot to the net.
Tipp were coasting with Noel McGrath firing over another – all six forwards were now on the scoresheet. Cork though, were shaken but not stirred and they manufactured points from Horgan (2) and Paudie O’Sullivan to trail by 2-11 to 0-10 at the break – a Noel McGrath sideline cut and another Kelly point rounding off a decent half for Tipp.
The Rebels, though trailing by seven, had given Tipp plenty of it, with the two goals proving to be the big difference. With the wind on their backs for the second half, they would need to find a way past Brendan Cummins – if they could that, they would have a great opportunity.
Cork didn’t find that way through, but they almost did it the hard way – point for point. They were still seven in arrears after 11 minutes – Seamus Callanan, John O’Brien, Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett trading with Patrick Cronin, Pat Horgan and a fine score from John Gardiner - when they embarked upon a point scoring streak which saw seven go over from Ben O’Connor (2), Niall McCarthy and Pat Horgan again(4). But, with the Rebel supporters egging them on, critically, Cork missed a few chances during this purple patch as well and also drove a number of harmless efforts into the outstretched right hand of Brendan Cummins. Tipp were let off the hook and set about punishing their opponents who had managed to draw level.
Shane McGrath had departed the scene at this stage through injury and James Woodlock made his championship return – the Drom-Inch man made a telling impact, as did Newport’s Conor O’Mahony who shored up the defence, with Padraic Maher moving to the right to quieten Niall McCarthy who had served up three Cork points.
Having found their feet, with Corbett and Kelly coming good for scores, Tipp began to ease away from Cork and one sensed that the challenge was petering out. Then, sub Benny Dunne raced onto a Patrick Maher pass in the 31st minute, it was goal Tipperary, and game, set and match – Maher’s role again being a telling factor.
Tipperary finished the game by adding 1-5 from play in the final ten minutes – the real sign of champions, with Noel McGrath, James Woodlock and Callanan ( his fifth from play) rounding off a nine point win.
Tipperary had faced Cork’s challenge with real aplomb. The Rebels had a right go, and Tipp, although regarded as being somewhat sluggish at times, were equal to the affront. Granted, the performance would not have been good enough for later in the championship, but at the same time, Tipp did the business and learned a few things along the way.
The defence, which has normally been the bedrock of the side over the last few seasons, was under a lot of pressure. A number of players will feel that they could have done better on the day. However, credit to debutant John O’Keeffe who had a tidy game on no less an opponent than Ben O’Connor.
Shane McGrath’s injury seems to have impeded his performance on the day while Gearoid Ryan got through a lot of work and finished well. In attack Tipp came up with 21 scores from play out of 26 – that’s great shooting. Seamus Callanan had five of those as he continued his rich scoring vein, while Lar Corbett resumed his goal scoring exploits. Patrick Maher nipped in for 0-1 but it was his creativity and his workrate which really set him apart. Eoin Kelly showed his class again and John O’Brien shot a superb second half point.
When Tipp needed scores in the second half, Corbett and Kelly came good to stop the rot – leaders both, showing the way.
Cork will be disappointed to have come so close at one stage and still end up nine points in arrears at the end. They rued those missed chances – the goals in the first half; the points in the second. Curious too that Horgan who got 0-13 should be subbed; as was Cian McCarthy who seemed to be doing well enough on the forty.
Denis Walsh’s men will feel that their performance did not deserve a nine point reverse – perhaps they are right, but they will be very much aware that giving away 3-23 in any game, will leave them open to being defeated well.
Cork must now embark upon the qualifier route while Tipperary march on to meet Clare in the Munster semi-final on June 19th in the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick.
Tipperary: B Cummins, P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill, D Young, Padraic Maher, J O’Keeffe, G Ryan, S McGrath, S Callanan 0-5, N McGrath 0-4, Patrick Maher 0-1, E Kelly 1-8, J O’Brien 0-2, L Corbett 1-2. Subs: J Woodlock 0-1 for S McGrath; C O’Mahony for D Young; B Dunne 1-0 for J O’Brien; P Bourke for G Ryan.
Cork: D Og Cusack, S McDonnell, E Cadogan, S O’Neill, J Gardiner 0-1, W Egan, B Murphy, L McLoughlin, P Cronin 0-1, B O’Connor 0-3, C McCarthy 0-1, N McCarthy 0-3, L Farrell, P O’Sullivan 0-1, P Horgan 0-13. Subs: J O’Connor for C McCarthy; J Nagle for C O’Connor; T Kenny for L McLoughlin; C Murphy for P Horgan; C Naughton for P O’Sullivan.
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).