Since then, however, Tipp have lost to Cork only once in championship hurling, appeared in three All-Ireland finals, winning one, and they’re generally seen as the only side near to Brian Cody’s all-conquering Kilkenny.
The game that changed the dynamic between the Tipperary and Cork was the 2007 All-Ireland qualifier in Thurles.
Tipperary came into that game on the back of a three-game saga against Limerick which the Shannonsiders eventually won. The omens weren’t good, says Eamonn Corcoran, who starred for Tipp at wing-back that year.
“Those three matches against Limerick in-a-row, it felt like we were professional soccer players at that stage, out every Sunday.
“You were thinking, ‘it’d be great to have a championship game every weekend’.
“We were starting to hurl a small bit better because there wasn’t that much pressure, you were going from Sunday to Sunday.
“Unfortunately they beat us the third day and there was a lot of ill-feeling in the camp, a sense that we’d left ourselves down. There were a lot of changes against Cork as a result.”
Corcoran admits Tipperary had an issue with overcoming Cork at the time.
“Growing up, playing minor and U21, and then at senior level, whatever it was, we couldn’t seem to turn Cork over.
“No matter where we played, they beat us nearly every time and you’d have it in your head, almost, that you couldn’t beat them.
“We came up short again and again and that night in Thurles, a wet evening, it almost ended the same way. People forget that.”
Joe Deane was starring for the Leesiders at that time. He offers the opposite perspective to Corcoran’s.
“We hadn’t lost to Tipperary in so long, you’d always fancy your chances. We’d lost to Waterford after ‘Semplegate’ that year but we had a couple of good wins in the qualifiers. They were going pretty well for us up to the time we headed to Thurles.”
Corcoran isn’t kidding when he says a lot of changes were made to the Tipperary team. As a crowd of under 13,000 filtered through the turnstiles in Semple Stadium, the word went round that manager Babs Keating had dropped two of Tipperary’s biggest names.
“It was nearly a bigger shock to the players than the supporters when we went out without the likes of Eoin Kelly and Brendan Cummins for the game,” says Corcoran. “We only heard the team before we went out, and fellas were looking around the dressing-room and thinking, ‘what’s going on’ but we reacted the right way.”
They took their time doing so. Cork were 0-6 to 0-1 up after 13 minutes and 0-8 to 0-3 ahead after 20. Business as usual? Tipp didn’t have their marquee name up front, so that was the expectation.
“A lot of the talk about Tipp for years had been, ‘well, they only have one forward’,” says Corcoran. “The other forwards aren’t stupid, they’d be aware of people saying that, but that night in 2007 Benny Dunne got three points, John Carroll and Darragh Hickey were good, Willie Ryan was very good . . .”
Corcoran’s memory is true: Willie Ryan struck a goal on 21 minutes to bring Tipp back into it, and only a point separated them at the break.
On the resumption Cork went 20 minutes without a score, while Ryan hit another goal for Tipperary, who hit 1-6 during the same period.
“The lads were good that night up front, when we were on top in the second half they got the scores when the chances came,” says Corcoran.
“That wasn’t always the case in previous games when we were on top. And those players might have been in their shell if Eoin had played, and that’s no reflection on him, because he was the main man and he did the business for us, and he still does. Another issue, though, was that for years we had been putting a lot of natural defenders up into the forwards and expecting them to do the business, which generally doesn’t work.
“That’s changed now. Nowadays when you look at the Tipp forwards you see immediately that they’re all natural attackers.”
Cork didn’t die quietly. They kept the scoreboard ticking over and Deane had a chance of a match-winning goal (“Did I?” he says, “I don’t remember that,”) but Brendan Cummins’ replacement Gerry Kennedy deflected the ball over the bar.
A Neil Ronan goal as the game wound down made things interesting, but Tipp wouldn’t be denied. One of Corcoran’s converted defenders hit the crucial score three minutes from time, John Carroll curling over an elegant winner.
There was time for a last twist, though. Time was almost up as Ben O’Connor stood over a sideline ball and looked at the Tipp goal. It wasn’t a clear-cut chance but that didn’t console Corcoran.
“He had that chance to level it and at that time he was the best in the business when it came to line balls. I was thinking, ‘he’ll plant this now’ but he mishit it and the game ended when we cleared the ball.”
At the end it was 2-16 to 1-18.
“For us that win was the starting point,” says Corcoran. “It gave us the belief that we could beat Cork. You’d have been thinking all the time you could do it but it only takes one negative thought to get into your head and you’re sunk.”
The season ended for Tipperary when they lost to Wexford in the next round of the qualifiers, but the future was bright. They harvested some pretty decent minors from 2007 — Padraic Maher, Patrick Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Michael Cahill — and in 2008, Liam Sheedy came on board as senior manager, steering Tipp to a win over Cork in Cork. The Blue and Gold have been in the ascendancy since.
Cork’s 2007 season ended when they lost to Waterford after two high-scoring qualifiers, a draw and a replay.
“Cork beat Tipp in the Munster championship in 2010 but Tipp have gone on to good things, winning an All-Ireland and making three finals,” says Deane. “They definitely improved once they got that win under their belt. They’re not alone in that, by the way – Waterford beat Cork in the championship twice that year and they haven’t lost to Cork since either.”
Corcoran emphasises the importance of the game.
“My mindset changed after that night, it was like you finally realise, ‘these guys are beatable after all’.”
“It’s like when Tipp nearly beat Kilkenny in the 2009 final and then they realised they could win an All-Ireland and did so the following year.
“That night in 2007, though, was definitely the turning point in the Tipp-Cork rivalry. Doing it without Eoin and Brendan was nearly better, but after a win like that the belief is there and you think, ‘look, we’re as good as them and we can beat them’.”