Tipperary staged a remarkable late revival to plunder the spoils against Cork in last night’s Bord Gáis Energy Munster U21HC semi-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, with senior panellist Sean Curran proving the matchwinner when he arrowed over a priceless late point from the wing.
It was a stunning transformation as Curran’s strike propelled Tipperary into the lead for the first and only time of the game. At various junctures during the second half, it seemed like their trip south would be an unhappy one as they trailed on the scoreboard.
When Cork led by 0-16 to 0-12 with only six minutes left, the Rebels appeared capable of closing out this game. But Tipperary stuck grimly to their task and diligently chipped away at Cork’s lead. Captain John O’Dwyer, David Collins, Niall O’Meara and their hero Curran were to the fore as they outscored their opponents by 0-6 to 0-1 in the closing stages to fashion a notable triumph. The victory ensured redemption for manager Ken Hogan after the Rebels caused their exit from last year’s championship and sets up a semi-final showdown with reigning champions Limerick on July 18.
Defeat was a bitter disappointment for Cork and followed on other recent underage setbacks for the county, with minor hurling and football teams bowing out of their respective Munster championships.
This loss was all the more galling because of the fact that they made the running for long stages. Senior stars Jamie Coughlan and Conor Lehane chalked up 0-12 between them while midfielder David Drake caught the eye with his inventive play as he struck 0-3 and Christopher Joyce was immense at centre-back. Yet those bright aspects of their performance were overshadowed by the fact that their campaign has ground to a halt at the first hurdle.
The game was not the cracking affair that we have grown accustomed to in this championship in recent years but the closely contested nature of it maintained the interest for the attendance of 3,026 present. The adverse weather conditions did not aid free-flowing hurling either and indeed torrential showers before the game raised the distinct prospect of a postponement at one stage. The game did proceed but it was a tough night for players to hurl on a sodden surface that was particularly troublesome as they tried to keep their footing underneath the covered stand.
Cork started in bright and confident fashion with Lehane and Drake impressing in the accuracy of their shooting while Joyce’s play was outstanding at the heart of the rearguard. They led 0-4 to 0-1 after 10 minutes and when Lehane skipped through the defence in the 19th minute before raising a white flag, that three-point advantage was still evident at 0-7 to 0-4.
But Tipperary were starting to warm to the task. The performances of Brian Stapleton and O’Dwyer, who started on the 2010 Tipperary All-Ireland U21 winning team, were integral to their recovery as they only trailed by 0-9 to 0-8 after 28 minutes when Stapleton was on target. Scores by Eoin O’Sullivan and Coughlan restored Cork’s lead by the interval but the sense that Tipperary were not going to be dislodged easily, still persisted.
That was maintained in the second half as the teams traded points. Coughlan snapped over three frees which were matched by a brace by O’Dwyer and a point by last year’s Tipperary All-Ireland minor football-winning captain, Liam McGrath.
Cork led 0-14 to 0-11 entering the last quarter but they could not strike either a goal or string together a run of points that would have killed off Tipperary’s chances.
Instead Tipperary timed their run to the finishing line brilliantly. Stephen Maher, a UCC Fitzgibbon Cup medal winner earlier this year, thundered into the action at right corner-back while Stapleton slotted comfortably into the centre-back position and became one of the game’s most prominent figures. O’Dwyer maintained his accuracy up front while Curran, Collins and O’Meara all assisted him in that regard.
Those facets fused into a successful late rally by Tipperary and they also managed to repel a late Cork onslaught that ensured they did not ship a levelling score and eradicated any prospect of Cork bringing the game into extra-time.
Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Dwyer 0-9 (0-6f), S Curran, D Collins 0-2 each, B Stapleton, D McCormack, N O’Meara, E Murray, L McGrath 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: J Coughlan 0-9 (0-6f), C Lehane, D Drake 0-3 each, C Joyce (0-1 ’65), E O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: Paul Ryan; S Maher, A Ryan, Pa Ryan; W Ryan, D Maher, J Cahill; B Stapleton, D McCormack; N O’Meara, S Curran, D Collins; L McGrath, J O’Dwyer, E Murray.
Subs: C Hogan for D Maher (45), A McCormack for Murray (48), T Heffernan for D McCormack (51).
CORK: S Nyhan; P O’Mahony, D Cahalane, C Spillane; D O’Mahony, C Joyce, P O’Brien; N Kelly, D Drake; M Sugrue, J Cronin, C Lehane; J Coughlan, D Brosnan, E O’Sullivan.
Subs: K Kavanagh for Spillane (inj) (8), B Murray for Brosnan (44), C Murphy for Kelly (52), P Haughney for Cronin (60).
Referee: Pat Casey (Waterford).