YOU couldn’t say it was inevitable, but it was highly significant that when the game was there for the winning in the last 10 minutes it was Tipperary who had the overall strength and the freshness to wrap up their place in the Munster SHC final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.
And, quite apart from the historical nature of their victory, their achievement was all the more noteworthy for the character they showed in bouncing back from what appeared a worsening situation after 23 minutes when they trailed by 1-8 to 0-4.
Cork, who had not lost a home game to the Premier county since 1923, could point to a failed goal attempt from debutant corner-forward Paudie O’Sullivan’s penalty eight minutes into the second half and some poor finishing from decent possession over the last 25 minutes.
But, the plain fact is that they were fighting a losing battle from the time Eoin Kelly pointed a 61st minute free to put Tipp in front for only the first time since Shane McGrath put over the opening score of the game after a mere 15 seconds.
Played in perfect conditions, Cork were quick to establish an advantage in general play and, importantly, on the scoreboard in the way they threatened more in attack.
Other than Diarmuid O’Sullivan being troubled by Lar Corbett for a while early on, they were quite comfortable in defence and dominant in the half-back line — on both wings especially. John Gardiner was to turn in an exemplary first-half, while Sean Óg Ó hAilpín produced a standard he was to impressively maintain for the full 70 minutes.
Shane McGrath, who was Tipp’s most consistent player on the day, did as much good work at midfield as the splendid Tom Kenny but Kenny and Jerry O’Connor achieved far more as a partnership. Further forward Ben O’Connor exerted a strong influence at right half-forward, while Timmy McCarthy put in a huge effort on the other wing.
However, while Cathal Naughton played a huge role — given a roaming commission, and using his pace to great effect — the return from the other forwards was minimal in comparison, with Pa Cronin in particular failing to live up to his promise.
And, ultimately, that was to prove an important factor, all the more so when Naughton was played out of the game in the second half after Conor O’Brien continued to do an effective ‘marking’ job after swapping with Eamonn Buckley early on.
It was Ben O’Connor who got the Cork goal, in the seventh minute, availing of a break made by McCarthy and it was no surprise to see them open up a seven-points gap. By then Corbett had faded in the face of a stronger challenge from O’Sullivan, while Eoin Kelly hardly saw the ball and there was no real penetration at half-forward.
However, the situation changed dramatically when Kelly goaled in the 24th minute, using his strength to get away from Brian Murphy and giving Donal Óg Cusack no chance.
However, nine minutes later Cusack did deny him a goal with a great save. Improving play from Tipp in the half-forward line (where substitute Pat Kerwick made a difference) aided a recovery which only saw them a point behind at the break, 1-8 to 1-7.
Apart from Cork’s goal misses (Cronin had a good shot stopped by Brendan Cummins and Paudie O’Sullivan just failed to finish it), the early stages of the second half confirmed Tipp’s improving play all over the field.
Conor O’Mahony’s excellence at centre-back and Paul Curran’s steadiness at full-back indicated a serious tightening of the defence, Seamus Callinan began to thrive at centre-forward and later Micheal Webster was to do a lot of damage when he came in at full-forward.
The end result was a growing belief in their ability to win, helped by some poor Cork finishing when they were still strongly in contention.
A Kelly free had the teams level for the first time in the 46th minute and they were to be tied twice more — in the 55th and 59th minutes. But, the momentum was very much with Tipp.
Corbett was again prominent, a more involved Eamonn Corcoran put over a huge score from a sideline ball and they benefited much more from their substitutions.
Cork gained a huge return from Ó hAilpín and Kenny — neither of whom deserved to end up on the losing team — but they needed a lot more from their team.
*Barry Kelly refereed well up to standard, although he was caught behind the play a few times. His use of the ‘advantage’ rule worked well.
Scorers for Tipperary: E. Kelly 1-7 (0-5 frees); L. Corbett 0-4; S. Callinan 0-3; E. Corcoran, S. McGrath, W. Ryan, P. Kerwick and M. Webster 0-1 each.
Cork: B. O’Connor 1-3 (0-2 frees); C. Naughton 0-4; J. O’Connor 0-2; P. O’Sullivan, S. Óg Ó hAilpin, T. Kenny and B. Corry 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: B. Cummins; E. Buckley, P. Curran, C. O’Brien; E. Corcoran, C. O’Mahony, S. Maher; J. Woodlock, S. McGrath; S. Butler, S. Callinan, R. O’Dwyer; E. Kelly (capt), L. Corbett, W. Ryan. Subs: P. Kerwick for O’Dwyer (32nd minute); B. Dunne for Woodlock (45th); M. Webster for Butler (46th); J. O’Brien for Ryan (54th); D. Egan for Callinan (73rd).
CORK: D. Óg Cusack; S. O’Neill, D. O’Sullivan, B. Murphy; J. Gardiner, R. Curran, S. Óg Ó hAilpín; J. O’Connor, T. Kenny; B. O’Connor, K. Canty, T. McCarthy; P. O’Sullivan, P. Cronin, C. Naughton.
Subs: N. McCarthy for T. McCarthy and K. Murphy (Sarsfields) for Canty (47th); B. Corry for Cronin (54th); J. Deane for P. O’Sullivan (66th); P. Horgan for N. McCarthy (68th).
Referee: B. Kelly (Westmeath).