By Noel Dundon
Tipperary relinquished their Munster minor hurling final at Pairc na nGael, Limerick on Sunday afternoon last in a very hard fought and close battle with rivals Cork, who lifted the silverware by the slenderest of margins.
An exciting, nail biting game which went right down to the wire, Tipperary had a half chance to snatch victory at the very death when substitute Michael Sheedy plucked a ball from the sky and shot over the bar - his effort just drifted high off the hurl and could as easily have ended up in the Cork net.
But, it wasn't to be for Tipperary and now they must embark upon the backdoor if they are to successfully defend their All-Ireland crown. They must go the same route as in 2006 and will be hoping that the experience of the Munster Final will stand to them in the All-Ireland series.
Tipperary came to Pairc na nGael hoping to put two Munster minor hurling titles back to back. And, although everyones favourites to take the All-Ireland crown and make it three national titles in a row, the management team had been at pains to point out that The Rebels represented a massive challenge to a side which had yet to reach it's full potential. Tipp needed to hit top form in this one - anything less would result in Cork putting the side to the sword.
Indeed Tipperary, somewhat similarly to last year, had started slowly enough in the championship and needed to up the ante considerably if they were to return to The Premier County with provincial silverware. The victory over Clare was hard fought and deserved, but the general impression was that a similar display in the decider would not be good enough.
With conditions perfect for the clash in Limerick, both sets of supporters anticipated a fine game. The ball was flying off the sod and although the day was somewhat overcast at times, it was just about as good as it gets for the summer of 2008. Tipp and Cork in a Munster minor hurling final - there was much to look forward to. And, the teams did not disappoint.
A nip and tuck first half with the initiative swaying this way and that, Cork had a slight wind advantage and went in at the break with a one point lead - 0-10 to 0-9.
Tipperary had started in a whirlwind with two points on the board inside two minutes from Kieran Morris and Paddy Murphy. And, by the 11th minute The Premier lead was at four points - 0-6 to 0-2 - Tipp adding to their total with scores from Kieran Morris, Paddy Murphy, Noel McGrath and Morris again.
Cork had a fine score from centre forward Ciaran Sheehan straight from the puckout after he grabbed and shot. This was followed by an effort from Padraig O'Shea in the 4th minute and having fallen four down, Cork began to put the pressure on Tipp to get back into contention. Paul Honohan and Noel McGrath exchanged scores and as The Rebels got a grip at half back and midfield, the supply of ball to the attack improved. Paul Honohan again and Paul Haughney added scores for them as did Simon O'Brien to leave one in it.
John O'Neill shot a super score for Tipp from the right wing and Brian O'Meara did likewise from the left side to extend the Tipp advantage again. But, Cork finished the stronger in the half and Ciaran Sheehan, Simon O'Brien, Haughney again and Padraig O'Shea left Cork one up at the break - O'Shea's final effort on the stroke of half time being blasted over from a 21 yard free.
Both sides had their periods of dominance in a half which was very evenly balanced. Indeed, there were also a few goal chances on either side with Tipp custodian Bill McCormack saving brilliantly in the 25th minute and Cork scrambling away a long ranger from Noel McGrath at the end of the first quarter. A goal would have a big say in this tie - both full back lines though were standing tall with the majority of the scores coming from further out.
There was to be no goal in it and how Tipperary fans would have loved one at the end. The quality of the encounter certainly dipped in the third quarter as the fluency of the first half gave way to a more disjointed game with a lot of 'rooting'. Ciaran Sheehan , operating at centre forward had caused Tipp a lot of problems and he opened the scoring in the half with a well taken effort from the throw-in. Noel McGrath and the impressive Thomas Butler responded for Tipp but Simon O'Brien shoved Cork into the lead again in the 7th minute - another attacker who caused Tipp big problems in the game.
Cork were looking dangerous at this juncture and seemed to have a lot of possession in attack - Kervin O'Gorman making a fine block from Paul Haughney in the 8th to prevent a goal.
Perhaps sensing the danger, Tipperary found their range and a superb sideline cut from Noel McGrath in the 12th set them on their way. John O'Neill shot another beauty to shove Tipp in front, but it was a short lived lead with Simon O'Brien again levelling for Cork. Haughney and McGrath traded scores before Jamie Coughlan had a Cork goal chance saved by Bill McCormack - the Sarsfields custodian was having a busy afternoon, an indication of the danger being posed by Cork.
Tipp seemed to have weathered the storm when Kieran Morris and substitute Michael Sheedy shoved them two in front with ten to go. But, just as they had done in the first half, Cork responded with Simon O'Brien, Padraig O'Shea and Ciaran O'Shea giving them the initiative with only four to go. Noel McGrath levelled with a 65 before Mark Collins and Seamus O'Farrell gave Cork the two point advantage again. And, as Tipp came in search of a goal to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Michael Sheedy's point materialised to leave one in it. There was to be no time for an equaliser though as referee Michael Meade's final whistle was sweeter sounding on Leeside than on the foothills of Slievenamon.
And so Tipperary relinquished the first of their '07 titles, albeit by the slenderest of margins. There is still much to play for however and the management team will be hoping to bring the squad back to the championship with a renewed vigor and hunger. If they were to lose a game, this was the one to lose and the players will have learned much from this match.
Tipperary's attack did not find the kind of space they enjoyed in previous games and were starved of quality ball for much of the encounter. The defence did their best to hold Cork at bay with Kevin O'Gorman, Noel McGrath, James Barry and Ciaran Haugh in fine form. Thomas Butler too won a lot of ball at centre forward while John O'Neill and Kieran Morris had their moments. Substitute Micheal Sheedy also contributed well while keeper Bill McCormack was very solid all through.
Congratulations to Cork on a fine victory for them. They came to Pairc na nGael as underdogs with little support and went home as champions. Ciaran Sheehan and Simon O'Brien were very impressive for them on the day while Paul Haughney and Paul Honohan were very accurate when presented with chances. Padraig O'Shea, Darragh Rodgers and Seamus O'Farrell were also in sparkling form for Cork who go on to the All-Ireland semi-final stage.
Cork played a nice brand of hurling but they will perhaps be concerned about the 13 wides they struck in the hour - Tipp had nine. It was a good day for the Rebels though and they enjoyed the moment.
Teams and Scorers:
Tipperary: Bill McCormack (Thurles Sarsfields); Liam Butler (Moyne-Templetuohy), Kevin O’Gorman (Thurles Sarsfields), Ciaran Haugh (Lorrha-Dorrha), James Barry (Upperchurch-Drombane), Adrian Ryan (Templederry Kenyons), Noel McGrath 0-6(Loughmore-Castleiney - Captain); Ruari Gleeson (Kildangan), Joe Gallagher (Kildangan); Kieran Murphy (Killenaule), Thomas Butler 0-1 (Clonoulty-Rossmore), Paddy Murphy 0-2 (Nenagh Eire Og); John O’Neill 0-2 (Clonoulty-Rossmore), Brian O’Meara 0-1(Kilruane MacDonaghs), Kieran Morris 0-4 (Moycarkey-Borris). Subs: J O'Dwyer (Killenaule) for K Murphy; M Sheedy 0-2 (Portroe) for B O'Meara.
Cork: D McCarthy, C Smith, D Rodgers, E Moynihan, A Walsh, P O'Shea 0-3, W Egan, S O'Farrell 0-1, D Roche, M Collins 0-1, C Sheehan 0-3, S O'Brien 0-5, J O'Dwyer, P Honohan 0-2, P Haughney 0-3. Subs: J Coughlan for J O'Dwyer; B Collins for C Smith.
Referee: M Meade (Limerick)