YOU weren’t expecting one-sided. Surely not. Cork and Tipperary was never going to be anything other than tight, and yesterday’s enthralling Munster hurling final in Thurles ended 2-14 to 1-14 in the Rebels’ favour.
It wasn’t a sweeping epic, more a psychological thriller, and Cork’s experience in tight finishes was crucial to suppressing any last-gasp twists in the script.
Ken Loach’s new movie may be exercising cinema goers, but it was the wind that shook Tipperary early on. Facing the breeze in the first half, they wired into Cork with 1-1 in the first two minutes, and the Killinan End exulted. Bullish Tipp fans had inflammatory signposts on every second telegraph pole beyond Kilbehenny and their optimism seemed well founded.
On their entrance to the field Cork were announced as Tipperary, and it took a while for them to assert their identity. When they did it was clinical: Joe Deane supplied points and improvised a nice duet with Brian Corcoran on the edge of the square to give the Erin’s Own man a goal.
However, on 19 minutes came a score that had Cork threading its DNA like the pattern through a stick of Youghal seaside rock. Brian Murphy won a ball in the left corner and played a short ball to Ronan Curran; it was relayed via John Gardiner, Ben O’Connor and Niall McCarthy back to Ben O’Connor, who finished with a wicked close-range strike for Cork’s second goal.
Tipp responded with jabs rather than a knock-out punch. Eoin Kelly kept pointing frees, but in Brian Murphy he had a natural corner-back for the first time in the championship — a defender who looks like he was born with a number four between his shoulder-blades. Murphy was tight and aggressive, and eventually Kelly went in to Diarmuid O’Sullivan, but apart from a trademark over-the- shoulder point in the second half, he didn’t score from play.
That wasn’t the sign of the apocalypse it might have been for Tipp, and after the break others stepped up: Lar Corbett worked hard and added a point to his earlier goal. John Carroll won ball and Benny Dunne pointed well when brought in. However, Tipp faced a dilemma in the second half: with the aid of the wind the temptation was to go long in their delivery to gain territory, but that would involve the Cork half-back line, usually referred to as the Tall Red Line.
And the Cork half-backs were waiting. Afterwards John Gardiner said: "In the first half, we probably didn’t utilise the wind as much as we should. Obviously we like the long ball coming down on top of us, any half-back, that’s what they’re there for. We seemed to work ourselves into the game a bit more after half-time — in the first half they were picking up the loose balls and throwing them over. In the second half we were that bit more efficient, sweeping up a bit more ball, and that stood to us."
Tipp contested every ball ferociously but Cork’s leaders remained clear- eyed. Donal Óg Cusack was often the springboard, starting move after move to add to his two fine first-half saves, while Ronan Curran had a message on every clearance.
Still, it augured for a breathless finish — the fact that John Allen took issue with the linesman probably tells you all you need to know — with closing points by Kieran Murphy and Deane finally killing off the Premier.
"We knew it’d be hard, despite everyone saying we’d win handy," said Gardiner. "Maybe that crept in a small bit, maybe it made it a little more difficult to focus, but we always expected a hard game. We knew Tipp would come for us hell-for-leather but we maybe didn’t anticipate them staying with us for so long, and we probably didn’t get a run together, a spell of play where we were really on top.
"We played okay without really setting the world alight."
As ever, both sides left with lessons learned. The complex decoy running of Cork’s half-forward line meant Tipp defenders were sometimes left alone to clear the ball, and a couple of clearances went out over the sideline, which was uncharacteristic of the red and white approach.
Tipp didn’t learn that they’d suffer if Eoin Kelly was held; they simply had that suspicion confirmed. But they were able to tread water, and the industry of their other forwards suggests most counties will be less than keen on meeting them in the quarter finals.
Before that, take yesterday on its merits: a hard game of glinting skill rather than a dazzling display, but a fine curtain-call nevertheless for Jimmy Purcell, the retiring Semple Stadium groundsman.
"A good one to go out on," said Purcell after the game. That it was.