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Tipp shade battle as tactics thrown out window

Tipperary 3-25 Cork 4-19
Tactics? Who needs ‘em! Just throw in the ball and let the players at it. That seemed to be the attitude of both management teams for yesterday’s high-scoring Allianz Hurling League quarter-final in Thurles.

First it was Cork, forced to recover from conceding 2-4 without reply in the opening eight minutes, Tipp wing-forward Denis Maher with the first goal inside a minute, corner-forward Niall O’Meara with the second, doubling on a miss-hit shot by James Woodlock.

Recover Cork did, and then some, 2-3 of their own without reply in the next eight minutes, Seamus Harnedy with both goals after switching from centre-forward to full. Now it was Tipperary on the rack but they too got themselves reorganised, fought back, and a third goal before the break — this one from the outstanding John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer — saw them take charge again, 3-9 to 2-8 on 32 minutes. Cork though weren’t done and an Anthony Nash 20m free ‘special’ got them back in the game, then a further three points saw them head for the dressing-room with a most unlikely lead, 3-11 to 3-9.

So, what master-tactic had the Cork management team pulled on the sideline? Shifting Harnedy to full-forward? Pulling wing-forward and captain Pa Cronin deep to help shore up the defence?

Not a bit of it, said selector Seanie McGrath: "The pressure was on but the lads settled well, didn’t panic. We didn’t do anything on the line, they did it themselves, got the scores when they needed the scores. That’s testament to their character more than anything else."

But what about Cronin and Harnedy, astute reactions to what was going on, surely?

Again, no. "Pa Cronin dropping deep was part of the plan from the start, that our half-forwards would play deeper. Tipp have so much movement in their half-forward line we had to try to counter that. But Pa takes on the mantle of responsibility himself, he was outstanding I thought, played that role brilliantly.

Seamus Harnedy going to full-forward is part of a rotation policy. We’re not as rotational as Tipp but we do give freedom to Conor (Lehane) and Patrick (Horgan) and those to move around. But Seamie at the edge of the square was a revelation, especially in the air. That was a brilliant take for his first goal, a clinical finish."

No tactical genius on the Cork sideline then — none with Tipperary either, according to manager Eamon O’Shea.

"The most pleasing thing was that the lads sorted things out themselves on the pitch, managers have little effect on the line. People like to think of managers doing this, that or the other on the line but we’re not that powerful really. The players deserve great credit for the way they sorted things out when they had to."

It all made for a thrilling spectacle, the ball whizzing up and down the field, scores coming in a non-stop torrent. In the second-half though it was Tipperary looking the more impressive and rounded outfit, no more goals but 16 points added to their half-time account, the bulk of those coming from the sublime O’Dwyer and free-taker Seamus Callanan.

Denis Maher, Noel McGrath (brilliant second-half) and Shane Bourke (two) also chipped in up front but even defenders Conor O’Brien and centre-back Brendan Maher (another impressive outing in that problem position) and midfielder Kieran Bergin got in on the act.

There was good reason too though why Tipperary opened the shoulders yesterday, says Eamon — they’re falling back in love with the game.

"The spirit is the main thing that came through with the players over the past number of weeks. A manager has to say when he comes out after his team loses that things are going well but they were going well, contrary to what it looked like on the pitch.

"It was only a matter of time and when they learn to like the ball they’ll be better. They have to like it a little bit more for my liking!"

Cork did manage another goal in this half, Patrick Horgan’s opportunism after Conor Lehane’s shot was saved by Darragh Egan, and the same man denied Cork keeper Nash with a save from an angled 20m free at the death that would have taken the game to extra-time.

They fell short but, says Seanie McGrath, it was still a good campaign for them. "Our target at the start of the year was win promotion, find a few new players. We’ve done that, I think we found three or four players. Even though we lost today, we got what we wanted to get from this league."

Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Dwyer 1-7; S Callanan 0-8 (3f, 0-1 65); D Maher 1-1; N O’Meara 1-0; J Woodlock 0-2; N McGrath 0-2; S Bourke 0-2; C O’Brien, B Maher and K Bergin 0-1 each.

Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 1-8 (5f, 0-1 65); S Harnedy 2-0; A Nash 1-0 (f); J Coughlan 0-3; C Lehane 0-3; D Kearney 0-2; K Burke, W Egan and P Cronin 0-1 each.

Subs for Tipp: R Maher for O’Mahony (35), J Forde for O’Meara (52), L wMcGrath for Bourke (62), E Kelly for D Maher (66), J O’Brien for Callanan (70+1).

Subs for Cork: R O’Shea for Lawton (49), C McCarthy for Haughney (61), A Cadogan for Coughlan (62).

Tipperary: D Egan; P Stapleton, C O’Mahony, C O’Brien; J Barry, B Maher (c), T Stapleton; K Bergin, J Woodlock; D Maher, N McGrath, J O’Dwyer; S Bourke, S Callanan, N O’Meara. Cork: A Nash; D Cahalane, E Keane, K Burke; L McLoughlin, C Joyce, W Egan; D Kearney, P Haughney; B Lawton, S Harnedy, P Cronin (c); P Horgan, C Lehane, J Coughlan. Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath)