Through the winger of late tension into the blessed relief of victory. That has our Tipp. experience, on field and off, at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Depletion of the playing quota had threatened the prospects of repeating the ‘08 breakthrough at the venue, but ultimately it put the stamp of resolution on the feat of beating Cork by the minimum. An aggregate of two points over U/21 and senior has to yield a pleasant acceptance of good fortune vis-a-vis the Rebels. On Sunday the occasion was further improved by a facile success at Intermediate level.
The attendance of some 32,000 paid tribute to the enduring pull of the rivalry and the conditions were a nice contrast to what was seen at Portlaoise on Saturday for Kilkenny’s sharp rebuff to Dublin’s presumed advance in status. Battle commenced in Cork between sides that matched each other in fairly radical omissions of experienced - maybe veteran - players. We had on the bench all the goal scorers in the seven rammed into Waterford’s net a year ago. Cork joined Cusack’s absence to the benching of his old allies Gardiner and O h-Ailpin, going for youth all round. They stuck to the decision all day while we made use of Corbett and Kelly to different degrees and with particular profit from Lar’s advent.
What emerged from the clash was a game high in face and commitment, well up to traditional stock, with the physical side quite severe in the rucking and the charging. We even had the immediate token flare-up which yielded yellows for Naughton and Padraig Maher - the Rebel winger repeating a play seen on the previous occasions. Cork initiative was to be expected with the bulk of crowd urging them on. They certainly delivered towards the Blackrock end by twice going four up, hitting five points from medium range and all angles. After Noel McGrath’s opener our reliance was on Pa Bourke’s nerve and accuracy with the placed ball, keeping Tipp. in touch to the extent of two at the break, it would have been just one but for a failed late bid for a goal. The big talking point of the half had to be referee Gavin’s call on the long Nash free that appeared, briefly, to have entered our net via Cummins’ fingers - a rarity in his career, but was ruled out for “in Square” by Horgan who had slipped in behind the ‘keeper’s jump. What a relief! Major scores were to be scarce on this tight occasion, ours was a crucial lodgment later on.
We had held Cork’s initial push to an encouraging extent but after a half of considerable defensive unease against their mobile forwards. Up front the combative Patrick “Bonner” Maher was already the main worker in the pressure that gained frees and 65’s for Pa Bourke’s admirable conversions. The move which withdrew Gearoid Ryan for the applauded Lar Corbett was timed rather unexpectedly on the brink of the interval.
We still stood two adrift when a John O’Brien “goal” was called back for a free, but the blow was soon softened by one that counted hugely in maths and in morale. Padraig Maher, coming into well timed prominence laid off to O’Brien, who fed Corbett for a lovely pass to Noel McGrath. The insertion was as economical as the Loughmore man’s other classy contributions. Tipp. cheers erupted - were we on our way? The sight, soon afterwards, of O’Brien walking to the line, came as a worrying reduction and a call upon character. John O’s first yellow had been harsher than the second. The issue was now thrown into obvious doubt with three up on Padraig Maher’s great score a vulnerable state of accounts as Cork could deliver more readily from defence against five forwards, with plenty time remaining. The arrival of the pacy Shane Bourke for the injured O’Meara was to be a bonus. A Lehane point wiped out all our advantage and matters grew more serious. Noel McGrath came into vital prominence, sweetly finishing from Shane Bourke’s cross and from a Pa provision. When Corbett won a free we had the “guard to the knave” of four ahead. Woodlock for Brendan Maher was rather a surprise move, with Kelly for Pa also in that category. Cork strove gallantly for recovery amid the competing roars of the followers. Cian McCarthy had a fleeting chance of altering the day’s fortunes completely after McCarthy and Kearney had reduced the gap to two. Horgan’s point was inadequate and a precious victory sent us home contented, with optimism justifiable - but yet to be justified in the Munster final. The verdict on Sunday was marginable, maybe a shade fortunate but still very much to credit.
Success is a satisfying bottom line to the event, the positives outweigh the negatives and we have the opportunity of learning from both. The mentors did not lack nerve in leaving Kelly, Corbett and Callanan out of the starting choice. Competition for places has now intensified. Anxiety seems, though, to have switched to the rearguard, where the inner trio had their problems, Conor O’Brien being the most exempt from them. The outer line, too, was stretched under Cork’s initial push but got into closer marking mode in the second half. Shane McGrath’s form was close to his best at midfield with good assistance from a Brendan Maher who took a few smart flags himself and hardly expected the call to the line with about ten to go. Some argue for a defensive slot for him, as when minor captain.
The worth of “Bonner” by now needs no emphasis. He was at his most active best as a breaker and provider, as well as raising general morale in Tipp. observers. Pa Bourke’s coolness on the placed ball when misjudgments would have been costly, as well as his aplomb on chances from open play made him a main resource. Gearoid Ryan was perhaps unlucky, but a call for Corbett was always on the cards at some stage and indeed drew a dividend with an assist and a free. John O’Brien’s first yellow might perhaps have alerted mentors to the hazard of a repeat. “Buggy” O’Meara had his moments for two points that, like all others, counted preciously in the reckoning.
Noel McGrath’s corner placing looked debatable in advance but his vision and his accuracy proved to be crucial with a return of 1-4 the back base of Tipp’s minimal margin. Cork will rue this reverse, though a home fixture against Offaly surely points to progress in the Qualifier sector. They put on an eager display that went close to achievement against the more experienced visitors. One expected some use of John Gardiner at some juncture but it didn’t happen, maybe luckily for us. Clare at home to a disillusioned Dublin, may have a decent chance of disappointing former captain Daly.
Over to club affairs in the interim. Loughmore v Drom will be a repeat of the last Mid final and an obvious attraction. Sars v Brackens in the other semifinal seems tilted the way of the Blues. In County context this Saturday Moycarkey face Burgess while Holycross take on Kiladangan.