Heartbreak for Tipperary footballers has come in many guises down through the years. But, surely there has never been more acute pain than that suffered in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday evening in the Munster senior football semi-final.
The Premier lads had produced an outstanding performance full of honesty and energy, as they came to within a whisker of causing the shock of the season. And, Cork limped away from their home venue fully in the knowledge that they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
A point up at the end of normal time, having really taken the game to one of the best sides in the country, Tipperary players were out on their feet as they beat away wave after wave of Cork attack. And, though a few chances presented themselves to shove the lead out further still, they went abegging, and were to prove very costly in the final analysis. Instead, Cork’s super subs Colm O’Neill and Aidan Walsh did the business as they fired scores late on to deny Tipperary as famous a victory Leeside as has been seen.
This was as fine a performance from a Tipperary football side, as has been seen in recent times. Peter Creedon’s men made light of the underdog tag as they tore into Cork with intensity and purpose. They disregarded reputation and played with a refreshing honesty which saw them dominate for long stretches in the game. Unfortunately though, they didn’t quite manage to reflect their play on the scoreboard, their biggest lead being three points.
Perhaps Cork should have been on-guard given the bright opening from the Tipp lads. They had 0-5 on the board after 11 minutes - Peter Acheson, Conor Sweeney, Michael Quinlivan, a superb score from Colin O’Riordan, and Barry Grogan giving them a decided advantage - Cork had two in this period from Daniel Goulding ( the opener) and Barry O’Driscoll.
The 4,192 in attendance could have seen Tipp goalling in the 4th had it not been for the brilliance of Ken O’Halloran in the Cork goals, who beat away a Sweeney effort. And, though Tipp saw two 45’s go abegging also, spectators could not have predicted that such misses would have such an impact on the ultimate outcome.
Cork enjoyed a spell of dominance as they opened the tank and fired over five points without reply - Brian Hurley (2), Paul Kerrigan, Daniel Goulding and John Hayes obliging. But, Tipp were holding their own and defensively they were well organised and sound in the tackle.
Stephen O’Brien kicked a fine point for Tipp in the 28th minute, bridging a 17 minute scoring void, and Grogan followed up with a free to reduce the deficit to one. Cork though had a beauty from Mark Collins and an Andrew O’Sullivan score to ease in front once more and they could have goalled in the 35th when John O’Rourke had an effort cleared off the line.
It seemed as though Cork would take a 0-9 to 0-7 lead in at the break, but the half wasn’t over yet. And, a long ball through to Sweeney, over the heads of the defence, saw the Ballyporeen man fire expertly to the net to give Tipp a 1-7 to 0-9 interval lead - magnificent stuff.
The slight advantage was no more than Tipp deserved - they had thrown off the shackles and were having a real go at Cork. They were quite comfortable in defence where the half line of Colin O’Riordan, Robbie Kiely and Peter Acheson were very much to the fore; were getting good exchanges from Hannigan and O’Brien at midfield; and were creating chances in attack - 8 out of 13 were taken. However, a number of attackers needed to up their workrate and were guilty of giving up the chase and allowing others to take on the hard work.
That Tipp got the first score afer resumption through a Conor Sweeney free in the 2nd minute was a big boost too and gave an indication of the mindset. Granted, Mark Collins cancelled the score after a great build-up from Cork, but Tipp hit back again with a Sweeney brace to open up a goal lead with the third quarter complete.
C ork had the big guns on by this stage - Aidan Walsh came on just before half time, and Colm O’Neill was added to the attack. He kicked two free in quick succession to leave it a one point game with nine to go.
Tipperary were tiring very quickly though - particularly O’Brien and O’Riordan, the two Leaving Cert lads. The changes were made with Brian Mulvihill, John Coughlan and Colm McCullough coming on and adding energy. Mulvhill had a fine score in the 32nd minute but Aidan Walsh cancelled this.
Tipp had scoring chances which were passed up - nine in total in the second half - and while Cork were also guilty in this regard (seven for them), the found their range when it mattered. Aidan Walsh levelled in the 36th minute and then drew a massive cheer from the attendance when he shoved Cork in front moments later.
Tipp’s fate was sealed and Barry O’Driscoll’s final score sealed an escape royale for Brian Cuthbert’s men.
It was a crushing defeat for Tipperary and the contrast with the hurlers exit at the same stage and by the same margin could harldy be more different.
There are scores of positives to be taken from this game and going on the performance, nobody will be too anxious to get Tipp in the qualifiers. Yes, they came up just short, but the steady progress made this season continued in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and took a major leap forward.
Ciaran McDonald, Robbie Kiely, Peter Acheson and Ger Mulhaire were outstanding for Tipp while Stephen O’Brien and Colin O’Riordan played far beyond their tender years. George Hannigan battled all the way through while in attack Brian Fox, Philip Austin and Conor Sweeney were most productive.
Cork got their win, but also a major warning. They were not allowed to play as they would have wished and Tipp’s attacking of them through the channels will surely have raised a flag for their management team. They needed the big guns to bring the ship home, and crucially, they had them. Ultimately, that was the difference between the sides.
Teams and Scorers:
Cork: K O’Halloran, M Shields, T Clancy, N Galvin, J Loughrey, P Kelly, J O’Rourke, A O’Sullivan 0-1, F Goold, M Collins 0-2, P Kerrigan 0-1, B O’Driscoll 0-2, D Goulding 0-2, B Hurley 0-2, J Hayes 0-1. Subs: A Walsh 0-3, E Cadogan, C O’Neill 0-2, D Og Hodnett, C Vaughan.
Tipperary: P Fitzgerald, G Mulhaire, P Codd, C McDonald, C O’Riordan 0-1, R Kiely, P Acheson 0-1, S O’Brien 0-1, G Hannigan, P Austin, I Fahey, B Fox, C Sweeney 1-4, M Quinlivan 0-1, B Grogan 0-2. Subs: B Mulvihill 0-1, J Coughlan, C McCollough, H Coughlan, A Campbell.
Referee: F Kelly (Longford)