TIPPERARY confirmed their superiority over Cork in an entertaining ESB All-Ireland minor hurling championship final at Croke Park yesterday and in the process moved to joint leadership with Kilkenny and the Leesiders with 18 titles at this level.
This was an historic final — the first time two counties from the same province met in the decider — and having already beaten them in the Munster final, Tipp were in no mood to bow the knee to their arch rivals.
Cork may point to a couple of wasted early goal chances, but in truth they had little answer to a hugely talented Tipperary side that had physique, superb hurling skill and a tremendous will to win.
Apart from the opening 11 minutes when Cork led by four points, Tipp were always in control. They laid the foundations for their victory at midfield where Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath reigned supreme.
Apart from the two early goal chances for Cork, the Tipperary defence conceded nothing with goalkeeper James Logue, full back Padraig Maher, and James Coughlan at centre back playing the proverbial blinders.
Up front the delightful stick work of Sean Carey, Seamus Hennessy, John O’Neill and Michael Heffernan posed endless problems for an overworked defence in which goalkeeper Darren McCarthy, Killian McCarthy and Lorcan McLoughlin played themselves to a standstill.
The persistent drizzle made underfoot conditions and ball control difficult for both teams. Tipp were first out of the blocks when Brendan Maher pointed from midfield after a minute.
Cork were level three minutes later through Ryan Clifford before settling well. Clifford was giving his marker a torrid time and they were totally dominant around the field, but lost a glorious chance of a goal when Michael O’Mahony won possession in behind the Tipp defence but with only the goalkeeper to beat, he opted to take his point.
Cork’s early dominance was again illustrated a couple of minutes later when Paul Gould ran clear but he delayed his shot and Tipp corner back Kevin O’Gorman got in a timely hook to deny the Cork forward a clear shot on goal.
Newtownshandrum’s Ryan Clifford was rampant at left corner with three points as Cork scorched into an 0-5 to 0-1 lead after 11 minutes. Inexplicably Cork didn’t score again for the next 10 minutes, not because they weren’t winning possession, but because Tipp took control at midfield through Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath, and once Kevin O’Gorman eventually got to grips with Clifford, they were level after 20 minutes with four unanswered points.
The Cork defence was very shaky under pressure and as they continued to struggle out the field, the Munster champions hit a purple patch. Seamus Hennessy pointed a long range free before disaster struck for Cork when Jack Herlihy slipped on the greasy surface which let Sean Carey in for a goal.
Cork moved to remedy their midfield problem by taking off Seamus Farrell and bringing on Stephen McDonnell and they were back in the game after 25 minutes when Robert White goaled after good work by Luke Farrell.
Clearly unhappy with their defence, the Cork mentors made the brave decision to take off full back Alywin Kearney, and move Jack Herlihy back and put Chris O’Donovan to centre back, but to no avail as the Tipp forwards continued to make a lot of space and they were full value for their 1-9 to 1-6 half-time lead.
Tipperary continued where they left off on the changeover and gave Cork a mountain to climb with a second goal a minute after the resumption when Michael Heffernan raced clear to score with ease.
If Cork were to wrest the title from the champions, they badly needed a goal but the Tipperary defence was rock solid and conceded no ground. The Leesiders did create one chance but Michael O’Mahony was smothered by three defenders and couldn’t get in his shot on goal.
Tipp maintained their grip on midfield which kept the pressure on the Cork backs and the points continued to flow with ease and by the end of the third quarter the Premier County held a commanding 2-11 to 1-9 lead and were not going to the caught from that position.
The dominance of both defences meant scores were scarce for the last quarter with both sides conceding a goal piece, Sean Carey kicking home for Tipp in the 60th minute while Luke O’Farrell scrambled one for Cork a minute into injury time after the Tipp ‘keeper failed to hold Jack Herlihy’s long range free.
Scorers for Tipperary: S. Carey 2-0; M. Heffernan 1-3; S. Hennessy 0-4 (0-2 frees); B. Maher 0-3; J. O'Neill 0-2; Patrick Maher, N. McGrath 0-1 each.
Cork: R. Clifford 0-6 (0-3 frees); R. White, L. O'Farrell 1-0 each; M. O'Mahony 0-3; P. Gould, P Gould 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: J. Logue; K. O'Gorman, Padraig Maher, S. O'Brien; J. Barry, J. Coughlan, M. Cahill; B. Maher, N. McGrath; S. Hennessy, C. Lorigan, S. Carey; J., O'Neill, Patrick Maher, M. Heffernan.
Subs: P. Murphy for Patrick Maher (32m); J. Gallagher for O’Gorman (52); D. O'Brien for Lorigan (55); D. O’Connor for McGrath (58).
CORK: D. McCarthy; C. Hurley, A. Kearney, K. Murphy; L. McLoughlin, J. Herlihy, C. O'Donovan; S. Farrell, D. O'Sullivan; P. Gould, M. Bowles, M. O'Mahony; L. O'Farrell, R. White, R. Clifford.
Subs: S. McDonnell for S. Farrell (25); G. O'Connor for Kearney (31); D. Stack for Bowles (ht). C. McCarthy for Stack (52).
Referee: J. Owens (Wexford)