From portents of doom to great expectations

THE INK in the obituarists’ pens dried up at about the time Séan Óg O hAilpín encountered Declan Fanning underneath the covered stand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday.

There were 41 minutes of the Cork-Tipp Munster SHC game played; seismologists can verify the timing.

The black-edged pages were ready and waiting, the career stats primed and double-checked; proclaiming the end of an era can be an intoxicating prospect, and there would have been no shortage of punters ready to call the time of death.

Not for a team. For a dynasty.

O hAilpín was a focal point for much of that speculation ahead of yesterday’s game. After an unhappy league final the Cork wing-back was widely assumed to be pushing up towards the shilling gate, as Ring once said, and it was perhaps significant that his manager, Denis Walsh, took the time to point out yesterday that Galway’s Damien Hayes would have given any defender enough of it that evening in Thurles.

Walsh was making those comments in the wake of a magnificent performance by his team, who beat a fancied Tipperary side by ten points. O hAilpín and his more venerable colleagues played yesterday like it was 1999, with apologies for the Prince reference.

Ben and Jerry O’Connor’s clever passing and accuracy were top class, as was their workrate; Donal Óg Cusack, another survivor of the last All-Ireland of the 20th century, shone when it came to both aspects of the keeper’s job, puck-outs and shot-stopping

Age on the field is a funny thing. In a conversation with a Kilkenny hurling legend some years ago he made a telling prediction about a team which was to play in an All-Ireland final soon after our chat: “They’re going to get old all of a sudden out on the field.”

Thus yesterday, and the expectations when it came to Cork. A pallid display in the second-half of the league final was the kindling, and the fire soon blazed with suggestion.

Cork were gone, they’d be down for years, and the Na Piarsaigh wing-back was a focal point, with some predicting that he would be retired by the time the Angelus bells rang out over the Marina.

For those hunting neat parallels O hAilpín made his championship debut in 1996 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as a teenage sensation; according to the programme he’d be marking another teenage sensation, Noel McGrath.

It didn’t work out like that. In the end McGrath was substituted – to be fair to him, any of the Tipp forwards could have headed for the bench – but O hAilpín had put down his marker with a thundering run up the wing soon after half-time – following a shuddering collision with Fanning, the Corkman played a deft ball into Niall McCarthy for a crucial point.

Tipperary will be back. They have too many good hurlers not to come back. On Saturday we made the point that their team’s career graph could resemble Cork’s dating from 1999, but something we might have added was the inevitable questions that a team is asked.

Cork faced those questions soon after their ‘99 win and overcame them. Now Tipp are facing the test.

Every side faces interrogations and setbacks, and their accommodation of same is what defines them. Yesterday’s defeat doesn’t derail Tipperary for the season but it will send them on some interesting branch lines. That’s Liam Sheedy’s challenge this morning. Denis Walsh has a different agenda, which is to rein in expectations ahead of the clash with Limerick in the Munster semi-final. But as he said yesterday, the players he has have been through all of that before.

PS Conspiracy theorists among the small-ball fraternity – much of the time the two terms are indistinguishable – can be vocal in their complaints about being treated as second-class citizens within the GAA. Unfortunately for those not minded to listen, yesterday they got more ammunition than they needed.

Delaying a Munster SHC game between Cork and Tipperary (att: 36,827) because of a slow bicycle race up in Ballybofey (att: 13,727) was a first-class gaffe.

This is Cork-Tipp, for heaven’s sake. Perspective!

PPS: Is Croke Park going to investigate the pipe band who played the anthem in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday? There was a clear case of stealth advertising in operation, with the name of a well-known betting concern emblazoned on the big bass drum; will we see a reprimand soon?

* Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx

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