Cork 1-21 Tipperary 1-16
By Jim O’Sullivan, Páirc Uí Chaoímh
BOTH sides were asking relevant questions after this absorbing Guinness Munster hurling final in Páirc Uí Chaoímh yesterday.
What if Cork had maintained the grip which saw them coast to an 11 -points lead at half-time and what if Tipperary had been more economical in their use of increased possession at key periods of the second half?
The All-Ireland champions gained their expected triumph, but Tipp’s admirable recovery, given huge impetus by the brilliance of Paul Kelly at midfield, pushed them to the threshold of a memorable recovery.
And, without gaining any silverware, Ken Hogan’s steadily improving side showed that they are just as worthy of their place in the quarter-finals as the winners of the county’s 49th provincial title.
Who could have anticipated such variation in form on both sides over the 70-plus minutes?
Best of all, it produced a true contest when there was a danger of Cork running away with the title after dominating for the half hour before the interval. Starting with Evan Sweeney in the left corner in place of the injured Lar Corbett, Tipperary made the early running in conditions that were perfect but for the high humidity and a surface that never looked better.
It saw them lead 0-3 to 0-1 after less than five minutes and it was noteworthy that Cork didn’t manage to go in front until the 12th minute.
The scorer was Brian Corcoran and it marked the end of his involvement, having earlier taken a tough tackle and suffering a shoulder injury. Neil Ronan, his direct replacement, was to make an important contribution.
Corcoran’s score was followed quickly by a Jerry O’Connor free and a 19th-minute goal from Kieran Murphy, who put in a huge effort on the right flank.
By then, a clear pattern had begun to emerge, with John Gardiner the first to show the way in the Cork half-back line and Ronan Curran and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín following suit.
Behind them, while Diarmuid O’Sullivan was well in control at the edge of the square, Micheál Webster was not getting much of a service.
Sweeney could make no headway against Pat Mulcahy, whereas Brian Murphy was in trouble against the crafty Eoin Kelly.
Later, as the supply to the Tipp forwards began to dry up, Kelly went to centre-forward, but he saw little ball there. It was a different story with the Cork attack, primarily from the inside three, with Joe Deane totally outsmarting Eamonn Corcoran.
But out around the half-forward line there was a noticeable lack of penetration at stages. Ben O’Connor was up against Tipp’s best defender in Diarmaid Fitzgerald and didn’t make the best use of the possession he won.
Niall McCarthy was in and out of the game, while Timmy McCarthy’s lack of match practice was evident in his play - just as much as it showed in Philip Maher’s tame display at full-back for Tipperary.
Frustrated by their inability to put scores on the board after Kelly pointed spectacularly in the eighth minute, the visitors were awarded a dubious penalty - won by Webster - in the 23rd minute. However, while Eoin Kelly struck the ball well, it was easily stopped by Donal Óg Cusack and, from his clearance, John Gardiner set up Kieran Murphy for a terrific score.
The game remained in Cork’s control all the way to the break, benefiting from Jerry O’Connor’s improved play (on Kelly) at midfield. In contrast, Tom Kenny struggled to get into the game and was replaced near the end.
Cork went to their dressing-room with an 11-point lead, 1-13 to 0-5 and the outlook looked gloomy for the underdogs.
While Cork claimed two early scores, from Ronan and a Deane free, they quickly lost the initiative as Tipperary began to improve in areas where they had earlier experienced difficulty.
For instance, Eamonn Corcoran was able to make a serious impact after switching to centre-back, Benny Dunne had more of an involvement and there was a significant improvement at half-forward.
John Devane, very much to his credit after filling in for Philip Maher in the semi-final, made a vital contribution at centre-forward, ‘Redser’ O’Grady added further strength on the right wing and John Carroll was forceful on the left wing after his introduction.
Nevertheless, John Gardiner remained a dominant force for Cork on the right flank.
Most encouragingly for Tipp, Paul Kelly was thriving, but his colleagues wasted good possession, with Colin Morrissey and Benny Dunne both spurning good chances when the team had gained a definite momentum.
This coincided with the life almost going out of the Cork attack, with a lack of penetration at half-forward proving just as costly as it had for Tipp earlier on.
On the credit side, Gardiner was immaculate under the dropping ball and in his clearances and O’Sullivan was doing valuable work before he came under pressure again later on, after Thomas Dunne went in on him - with Webster adding to his nuisance value in the left corner.
Tipp’s honest endeavour was fittingly rewarded with a goal in the 62nd minute which O’Grady claimed and which came from an outfield free, hit in by goalkeeper Brendan Cummins.
It reduced the margin to a manageable five points and with Eoin Kelly pointing from play immediately afterwards, Cork’s grip on the title looked decidedly shaky.
However, they were lucky when Dunne agonisingly failed to finish the ball to the net after it broke just yards from the line. In their case, ‘if only...’ had a real resonance when the full time whistle sounded.
Scorers: Cork: K Murphy (Sarsfields) 1-2; J Deane 0-5 (0-3 frees); B O’Connor 0-5 frees; N Ronan 0-3; J O’Connor 0-3 (0-1 free); B Corcoran, N McCarthy and K Murphy (Erin’s Own) 0-1 each. Tipperary: P Kelly 0-7 (0-1 free, 0-1 ‘65); E Kelly 0-6 (0-2 frees); G O’Grady 1-0; J Devane 0-2; J Carroll 0-1.
CORK: D Óg Cusack; P Mulcahy, D O’Sullivan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Óg Ó hAilpín (capt.); T Kenny, J O’Connor; B O’Connor, N McCarthy, T McCarthy; K Murphy, B Corcoran, J Deane.
Subs: N Ronan for Corcoran (injured, 13th minute); W Sherlock for Murphy (59th); J O’Callaghan for Kenny (66th); K Murphy (Erin’s Own) for T McCarthy (69th).
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; E Corcoran, P Maher, P Curran; D Fanning, D Kennedy, D Fitzgerald; B Dunne (capt.), P Kelly; C Morrissey, F Devanney, T Dunne, E Kelly, M Webster, E Sweeney.
Subs: H Moloney for Kennedy (31st minute); G O’Grady for Devanney (33rd); J Devane for Sweeney (second half); J Carroll for B Dunne (46th).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).