CELEBRATIONS, celebrations; the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the GAA, a clash of two of hurling’s most ancient and celebrated rivals, new floodlights being switched on in what many see as the true home of hurling, Semple Stadium.
At precisely 7pm, to a choreographed countdown, the switch was thrown and slowly, impressively, night was turned to day in Thurles. Ah yes, everything was in place; the party was long since organised and advertised, the thousands of kids who had been brought along by their local clubs added their youthful energy to the occasion; the pipe band played and the choir sang, the Thurles Gospel Choir’s harmonious rendition of Oh Happy Day lifting to the heavens.
But it was all something of a damp squib. The guest of honour, you see, failed to turn up. Oh there was a stand-in, a pretender dressed in the same clothes, trying the same tricks, but gamely as the young aspirant tried, it was a poor impression.
Last week, a nine-point home loss to Dublin was deemed worthy of applause; on this historic Saturday night in Thurles a 12-point defeat was deemed a partial success, the annihilation predicted by many avoided; at what stage, however, will one of these defeats become unacceptable?
This, says manager GeraldMcCarthy, is the Cork senior team and panel for 2009, that, he says, is the reality; at what stage will it become acceptable to start treating them as such?
Let’s look critically at what happened in Semple Stadium on Saturday night. From the first whistle, they set out their stall with one thing in mind — damage limitation. This was denied afterwards by the manager, but it’s a fact. For half an hour it worked, and Cork trailed by just three points at the break, 0-7 to 0-4.
Why this tactic? It’s true that Tipperary were very strong defensively, and the two lines dominated from start to finish. However, in keeper Gerry Kennedy, midfielder Shane Maher, in the entire half-forward line of James Woodlock, John Devane and Pat Kerwick, and in the inside line of Paul Kelly, Patrick Maher, Pa Bourke, Tipperary were in experimental mode. Why didn’t Cork just take them on?
As it was, against that powerful defence, outnumbered, the Cork forwards never had a chance. Once Tipp got to grips with the extra man at the back for Cork, the scores started to come and point by point in the second half, the gap started to open. 0-12 to 0-6 it was after 47 minutes, then came the first goal, a Toomevara combination effort (long centre from wing-back Benny Dunne grabbed by John O’Brien, roofed).
A second Tipperary goal near the end put a bit of a gloss on things, but that’s all it was — a gloss. Tipperary were as poor as they’ve been for some time, yet Cork were never going to win this; their four points in the first half came from two sources, skilful wing-forward Tadhg Óg Murphy (2) and sharp-shooting midfielder Barry Johnson (2). All the second half return came from Johnson (four of his five points from frees), not a single point from a forward.
Tipp manager Liam Sheedy wasn’t for trying to talk themselves up. "Not very impressive," he admitted, "Probably flattered by the final score, to be honest, got two goals close enough to the end. Having said that, Cork had a plan, played the extra man back, played a very defensive game, which we struggled to break down for a long time, the extra man cleared a lot of ball in the first half."
Atmosphere? A crowd of 9,150, a huge proportion of those being young kids who had been rounded up during the week and brought out for the big ‘occasion’. The adult supporters, those with an eye for actuality? Never got into this one, never had any reason to do so. Cork will win praise for the heart and commitment they showed, for the hurling ability. Tipp too had a good number of young players on show last night. "I was very happy with them," said Sheedy, of youngsters like Brendan Maher, Shane Maher, Patrick Maher (none related), of Pa Bourke, Seamus Hennessey, Noel McGrath, Gearoid Ryan, all of whom saw significant action.
"I thought they worked extremely hard. The likes of Benny (Dunne) and Johnno (Brien) have been doing it for a while, regulars on the team, but I’m delighted with the young lads, what they’re giving to the panel. There’s a real hunger about them, some of them already have a couple of All-Ireland minor medals, their attitude is very, very good."
As for Gerald McCarthy and Cork: "Look, if you have a panel of 30 players that are as enthusiastic as these guys there is always hope for the future. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year but at least they are keeping Cork hurling alive when people wouldn’t be on the playing fields otherwise. That is important for Cork hurling."
It is, but there are things far more important — this farce must end.
Scorers for Tipperary: P. Bourke 0-6 (0-5 frees); J. O’Brien 1-1; P. Maher 1-0; J. Woodlock 0-2; S. Hennessey 0-2; S. Maher, J. Devane, P. Kelly, W. O’Brien, 0-1 each.
Cork scorers: B. Johnson 0-7 (0-5 frees); T. Óg Murphy 0-2.
TIPPERARY: G. Kennedy; E. Buckley, A. Fanning, P. Curran; B. Maher, C. O’Mahony, D. Fitzgerald; S. Maher, S. McGrath; J. Woodlock, J. Devane, P. Kerwick; P. Kelly, P. Maher, P. Bourke.
Subs: J. O’Brien (Kerwick 29); S. Hennessey (y/c Devane 31); B. Dunne (S. Maher 43); N. McGrath (Woodlock 59); G. Ryan (McGrath 62); T. Scroope (Kelly 68).
CORK: A. Kennedy; E. Keane, C. Murphy, C. O’Sullivan; R. Ryan (capt.); J. Moran, C. Leahy, A. O’Connor; T. Óg Murphy, B. Johnson; M. Collins, A. Ryan, D. Crowley; A. Mannix, E. Cronin.
Subs: G. O’Driscoll (Leahy y/c 32); T. Murphy (Mannix 45); R. O’Driscoll (Crowley 58); C. McCarthy (Collins 63); G. Ryan (O’Connor 62); E. Clancy (Moran 71).
Referee: M. Wadding (Waterford).