The conveyor belt is motoring in Tipp but Cork’s fireproof confidence is gone

The conveyor belt is motoring in Tipp but Cork’s fireproof confidence is gone
Tipperary’s Ciarán Connolly has his progress halted by Cork’s Tommy O’Connell in Saturday’s All-Ireland U20HC final in Limerick. Cork were shellshocked by Tipp’s early blitz. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

When I was strolling out the Ennis Road in Limerick on Saturday evening, I met a few Tipperary fans already heading for home. The presentation was still to take place but, while those supporters weren’t hanging around to drink in the giddy atmosphere on the pitch, they were still clearly basking in the warm afterglow of an electric six days.

There was a massive Tipp crowd in the Gaelic Grounds. Of course they’re going to get high on the emotion of a double All-Ireland success within six days but Tipp will be the first to admit that they haven’t always handled All-Ireland success as well as other counties.

They’re not going to worry about that stuff this morning but you get the sense that it’s at the back of Tipperary minds too. ‘Some week for ye,’ I said to one fella strolling out. ‘We thought that too in 2010, Dalo,’ he replied. ‘Different this time though,’ I said back to him. ‘Different guy at the helm now.’

Tipp are in a much different position now to where they were nine years ago. Liam Sheedy moved on only a month after Tipp had won All-Ireland senior and U21 titles but he’s only in year one of a three-year term now, whereas he was in year three of a three-year term back then.

Liam will have that stabilising effect on everyone, not just in the squad, going forward, whereas Tipp just seem in a better place full stop. The sponsorship deal with Teneo has put the county on a solid financial footing while the senior squad now has two different All-Ireland winning squads — this year’s U20s, and last year’s U21s — to integrate into a successful senior set-up.

When Liam goes about selecting a 50-man training squad over the winter, as he perhaps looks to give some of the older crew a break, there will be some leathering in Dr Morris Park when these young U20s get their shot. They know they have to bide their time but once these guys get a sniff of the big-time, they’ll do whatever it takes to get a jersey.

They’ll be looking on Liam like a God but many of those young bucks will be aware of Tommy Dunne’s excellent coaching too, having worked with him with last year’s minor squad, which won the Munster title.

The conveyor belt is really motoring in Tipp now, having won the 2016 All-Ireland minor title, last year’s U21 and the inaugural U20. Liam Cahill has been at the helm for all three of those successes and Tipp’s next move is to make sure that they hold on to him with the U20s for next season.

The big question Cahill may be asking himself is whether he wants to stay at this grade, or does he fancy a shot at the big-time? The Tipp senior job is his ultimate aim but, knowing that the vacancy won’t arise for at least another two years, would Cahill fancy a crack at Waterford? Because they could very well come calling.

Whatever happens, that’s only a minor concern for Tipperary, whereas Cork’s hurlers have now gone another year without an All-Ireland title. That fireproof confidence is gone from Cork. I know that’s hard to label on one underage team but that tentativeness was evident from Cork as soon as the game began.

Cork got too caught up with Tipp from the get-go because they nearly seemed more concerned with trying to contain Tipp than just going at them. When they threw off the shackles with 15 minutes to go, they had a right cut but they needed to bring that attitude from the start, not when the game was effectively gone from them. There was a nervous tension with Cork from the first ball and, once Tipp sensed that vulnerability, they went for their throat with goals. With the huge crowd in Limerick, some of those patrons who were late into the ground missed those four early goals.

I feel sorry for Denis Ring. I know the work he has put in to these players because I’ve seen him on the line from my time with the Limerick Academy. But he seems to be haunted by these All-Ireland finals. And he was outfoxed again by Cahill.

Tipp just had the edge on the Cork defence but Cahill was cute too in how he deployed Johnny Ryan in the role to scrub out Daire Connery. The two number 12s were almost playing a game of cat and mouse in midfield, to see who would crack first. And Ryan won that battle.

Connery is a class player. He is good enough to be a Cork senior in the coming years but it was the first time I saw him get as frustrated as he did. He picked up a yellow card early and that may have impacted on his form as the game progressed.

Cork needed all their big guns to fire but Tipp’s main men just out-gunned them. Billy Seymour had the game of his life but Tipp always had that threatening and menacing look about them which Cork never really possessed.

The Tipp half-back line was rock solid while Craig Morgan was outstanding in the full-back line. Cork had to bring Brian Turnbull out the field to try and get him away from Morgan’s clutches but Morgan was thundering up the field with every opportunity. Right at the death, when the game was long over, Morgan hared up in front of the Mackey Stand, being fouled about three times before eventually winning the free, which Jake Morris slotted.

When the sides met in last year’s All-Ireland U21 final, Cork looked to have all the big names — Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon — but Tipperary still took them out. On Saturday, Tipp had all the marquee names. But they got the job done.

Cork were shellshocked from the early Tipp blitz. They were out early after half-time but their body language didn’t exactly suggest the players believed that they could turn it around. Tommy O’Connell missed a couple of 65s that he would have expected to nail. Turnbull dropped a shot short in to the keeper’s hand. Cork did make a burst in the third quarter but it was too late by then.

Even when Cork did get momentum, the row in front of the Mackey Stand was just what Tipp needed, and what Cork didn’t. A two-minute delay suited Tipp down to the ground, while Tommy O’Connell’s yellow card eventually saw him walk on a red later in the match.

It was just one of those nights for Cork but one of the big unknowns for Cork after another defeat is that some of these Cork players will be facing into senior careers not knowing who the manager will be, and if they will have any place in those plans.

Compare that to the stable and secure environment that many of these young Tipp players will enter in the coming seasons?

A number of these Cork players — Connery, Shane O’Regan, Tommy O’Connell, Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Ger Millerick — will get their chance. But you’d still have to say that finding out-and-out defenders continues to be a problem.

The full-back line was all over the shop all evening. Cork conceded five goals but it would have been seven only for two excellent saves from Ger Collins.

I know that Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan was involved with this group at U16, and you’d wonder why he wasn’t retained, especially for his defensive knowledge, and what he could pass on to these guys.

I’m not talking about dark arts, just good solid defending that Cork don’t seem to be capable of doing on so many occasions in big matches, both at U20 and senior.

Tipp have massive firepower in this team but when you assess the two defences on Saturday evening, Tipp’s defence was better, not just in terms of quality but in how they went about their jobs. Four goals in eight minutes does have a freakish element about it but the Tipp defence still had a hardness and an edge that Cork just didn’t have. And the same problems will persist for Cork at senior level until they get those issues sorted.

I’m sure that streetwise and hard nature to this Tipp side would have pleased Liam as much as their firepower, because that’s the kind of mentality you need to keep a successful side on their toes. Guys who want the jersey and who are hungry to get their hands on that garment.

Liam won’t rush them in either. He can afford to take the Brian Cody attitude now of blooding them but not bleeding them early. And that’s the beauty of the position Tipp are in now.

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