Not an epic Munster senior hurling championship semi-final in sunny Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday by any means, nothing like the blood-and-thunder slugfests of old between these two great rivals, nor even the high-voltage games of the recent past.
What it lacked in bite, however (the only fireworks took place before the throw-in, Cork’s Cathal Naughton and Tipp’s Padraic Maher earning yellow cards for a harmless bout of hurley-jabbing), it made up for in excitement, an enthralling contest between two evenly-matched and well-balanced teams, thoroughly enjoyed by a shirt-sleeved crowd of 32,568.
Worthy winners too, Tipperary reduced to 14 men in the 48th minute after John O’Brien saw red for a second yellow-card offence but still managing ! to hold back the surging red tide. If the champions had taken all their chances though, had they converted all their goal opportunities especially, they wouldn’t have been left hanging on for dear life in those final minutes.
What a challenge thrown down by Cork though, what a mature performance even from the likes of teenage midfielder Darren Sweetnam, making his championship debut but playing like a veteran. If they can develop a killer instinct, if they stop settling for the easy point when there is more on offer and go for the jugular, they will become a force. They too had their chances yesterday, late in the second half especially, when this game was very finely poised, but didn’t take them.
In the 59th minute Jamie Coughlan (fine game overall) had a man with him on his left and a clear path to goal but opted for the point; in the 68th minute, Cian McCarthy made a magnificent soaring catch but turned and shot far too soon, again with a man clear on his left (missed the target to boot). Very positive signs for Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his selectors but plenty to work on too — this team still has a way to go.
Tipperary won the toss and opted to play into the wind; it worked out for them but in hindsight, you’d wonder — were they wise to concede that advantage to a precocious Cork side? Would they have been better off trying to put them away early rather than gifting Cork the considerable wind advantage, an advantage of which they made full use? Eight points to four Cork led after 14 minutes, 0-12 to 0-8 just seven minutes later by which time every Cork starting forward had scored from play. By contrast an overreliance on Patrick Bonner Maher as a ball-winner and on Pa Bourke as a finisher was already becoming obvious in Tipperary’s attack.
What a game by Bonner though, what an influence he has on every game he plays. His ball-winning prowess borders on the miraculous, his ability to find a player in space equally good. He didn’t score yesterday (had a couple of half-chances a more clinical finisher would have taken, but then who has everything?) but his mark was on almost every Tipperary score.
Tipperary did have a good last 15 minutes in the first half, closed the gap to two points at the break (0-14 to 0-12), would have taken the lead but for a fine goal-line stop of a Pa Bourke 20m free by Cork keeper Anthony Nash in the final seconds.
The second half was a continuation of the high-tempo open play of the first, Cork extending their lead to three points (Horgan leading by example with yet another drilled free, lovely control from Paudie O’Sullivan for the second, looked dangerous every time he got on the ball) before Tipperary went on what turned out to be the game-winning run. Started with two pointed frees from Pa Bourke, then came the game-breaker, 46th minute, the only goal, and worthy it was. Started with a fantastic catch by Bonner Maher of a long Brendan Cummins clearance, outlet pass to John O’Brien who then sent Lar Corbett away (had come on as a sub in the 34th minute); the cover was sucked out, Lar passed to the unmarked Noel McGrath, absolutely no chance for Nash. A further Tipperary point, this one by the marauding Padraic Maher, and in just five minutes Tipperary went from three points down to three in front, 1-16 to 0-16.
A moment of madness then from the veteran John O’Brien, however, a wild pull on Eoin Cadogan and a second yellow card, and suddenly it was game on again. Cork came back, had their chances as noted above, but ultimately came up short.
Scorers for Tipperary: P Bourke 0-12 (7f, 2 65s); N McGrath 1-4; B O’Meara 0-2; B Maher 0-2; Padraic Maher, G Ryan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 0-11 (8f); P O’Sullivan 0-3; J Coughlan 0-3; C Lehane 0-2; P Cronin, C Naughton, D Kearney, C McCarthy, D Sweetnam, 0-1 each.
Subs for Tipp: L Corbett (Ryan 34); S Bourke (O’Meara inj. 55); J Woodlock (B Maher 57); E Kelly (Pa Bourke 67); D Maher (Stapleton 70).
Subs for Cork: C McCarthy (Naughton 47); D Kearney (Sweetnam 50); L O’Farrell (Lehane 63).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).