TWO points in the closing minutes earned Cork a thrilling victory over arch-rivals Tipperary in a superb Munster MHC final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick yesterday.
Seven times the evenly- matched sides were level and it looked odds on for a replay until points by Mark Collins and Seamus Farrell edged the Leesiders in front. And they hung on for a victory that, on the balance of play, they just about deserved.
Nevertheless, it took an age for the game to liven up. There was none of the close marking one associates with a game between these great rivals with the result that scores came frequently. That added to the excitement of the occasion.
Cork had many heroes. In defence full-back Darragh Rodgers, centre-back Pádraig O’Shea and wing back William Egan were magnificent.
The new champions shared the midfield exchanges while, up front, Ciarán Sheehan at centre-forward, Paul Honohan at full-forward and Paul Haughney at left corner-forward were the principal scorers and gave a highly-regarded Tipp defence a torrid time.
Indeed, had Cork enjoyed any slice of luck around the Tipp goal they would have had at least two goals, but a combination of superb goal- keeping by Bill McCormack and a bad miss by Jamie Coughlan combined to leave Cork without a goal.
Apart from McCormack, Tipp were well-served by Noel McGrath, who contributed six points, all from placed ball (one a superb effort from a sideline cut), Kieran Morris, who chipped in with four points, and Kevin O’Gorman at full-back.
Six points were scored in the opening five minutes, four by Tipperary, which made for a high-scoring game. And fans weren’t disappointed.
Cork enjoyed most of the play in the opening minutes but found scores difficult to come by against a strong Tipp defence where Noel McGrath and Adrian Ryan gave nothing away.
At the other end, the Cork defence gave away needless frees which Kieran Morris and Noel McGrath punished every time and, after 10 minutes, the Premier County had forged 0-6 to 0-2 in front.
However, Cork improved as the half wore on with Honohan particularly impressive at full-forward and a succession of points, two by the Bishopstown youngster, had the Tipp lead down to the minimum, 0-7 to 0-6, at the end of the opening quarter.
After such a great start Tipp faded alarmingly as Cork upped the ante. Darragh Rodgers took command of the square and with Paul O’Shea dominant at centre-back, Paul Haughney and Paul Honohan and Simon O’Brien thriving on the plentiful supply of ball that came their way, they drew level at 0-9 each after 30 minutes.
Cork also created the only goal chance of the half but were denied by a brave save by Bill McCormack, who came off his line to deny Haughney. The pressure on the Tipp defence was relentless and when Pádraig O’Shea came forward to take a 20-metre free, his effort for a goal shaved the crossbar and the Leesiders took an 0-10 to 0-9 lead to their dressing room at half time.
The game livened up considerably on the changeover and the scores continued to flow. Two evenly-matched sides were level on two further occasions after 40 minutes and it was nip and tuck for the next 10 as they continued to swap points to be level at 0-16 apiece with five minutes of normal time remaining.
Cork lost another glorious chance of a goal when the sliothar broke in behind the Tipp defence to the unmarked Jamie Coughlan, but he failed to connect with any decent power and ‘keeper McCormack cleared the danger.
As time ticked away and with tension mounting, Ciarán Sheehan edged Cork in front with a point that looked to be wide, but the mercurial Noel McGrath showed his class with an equalising point from a ‘65 and a replay beckoned.
However, Cork were not to be denied. Inspired by the brilliance of their half-back line of Aidan Walsh, Padraig O’Shea and William Egan, they hit the front with points by Mark Collins and Seamus Farrell.
A two point lead is a nightmare in a hurling game and Tipp came searching for a goal which would have surely given them the title. Substitute John O’Dwyer created the chance for Michael Sheedy but his effort went over for a point. And the game was over on the puck out much to the delight of the small band of Cork supporters. Scorers for Cork: S. O’Brien 0-5 (0-1 free); C. Sheehan 0-4; P. Haughney, P. O’Shea (frees) 0-3 each; P. Honohan 0-2; M. Collins, S. Farrell 0-1 each.
Tipperary: N. McGrath 0-6 (0-5 frees, 0-1 65); K. Morris 0-4 (0-3 frees); P. Murphy, J. O’Neill, M. Sheedy 0-2 each; B. O’Meara, T. Butler 0-1 each.
CORK: D. McCarthy; C. Smith, D. Rodgers, E. Moynihan; A. Walsh, P. O’Shea, W. Egan; S. O’Farrell, D. Roche; M. Collins, C. Sheehan, S. O’Brien; J. O’Dwyer, P. Honohan, P. Haughney.
Subs: J. Coughlan for O’Dwyer (50), B. Collins for Smith (53).
TIPPERARY: B. McCormack; L. Butler, K. O’Gorman, C. Haugh; J. Barry, A. Ryan, N. McGrath; R. Gleeson, J. Gallagher; K. Murphy, T. Butler, P. Murphy; J. O’Neill, B. O’Meara, K. Morris.
Subs: J. O’Dwyer for K. Murphy (35), M. Sheedy for O’Meara (40).
Referee: M. O’Connor (Limerick).