Donal O'Grady: Tipperary's ability to conjure goals shows Cork the route to top table

Cork gave everything they had. Tipp just had a little bit more
Donal O'Grady: Tipperary's ability to conjure goals shows Cork the route to top table

Cork’s Shane Kingston controls the ball under severe pressure from Tipperary’s Niall O’Meara in atrocious conditions during the All-Ireland SHC match at LIT Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture: Laszlo Geczo

A stirring contest between Cork and Tipperary was decided in the first and final 10 minutes of the second half.

After the interval, the rain eased off and the wind died a little, to Tipp’s advantage. The Premier took the game to Cork in that first 10 minutes. The wind-assisted Rebels were unable to pressurise their opponents to the same degree as they had in the first half as Tipp upped their movement and intensity, giving them that extra second to deliver more effective ball forward as more space was created.

Tipp played the ball into their attack down the wings with more purpose and angled the ball to the corners, scoring 1-3 and stretching their lead to five points.

Ultimately, this scoring burst took its toll on Cork. Courageously, they fought their way back to lead by a point on 60 minutes with Seamie Harnedy leading the way. However, a lot of energy was used up by the Rebels to get their noses in front and they were unable to maintain those levels of intensity down the finishing stretch.

Tipp’s second goal in the 69th minute was decisive. Willie Connors flicked on a long Brian Hogan puckout to Jake Morris driving through the middle and he struck a fine shot, giving Anthony Nash no chance. It was the game-breaker in favour of the Blue and Gold, allowing Tipp to get bodies back to protect their goal for the final five minutes.

Cork condensed the play by striking high balls into a Tipp defence who were strong in the air, instead of working the ball short and running at them. The Premier had scored 1-3 down the final stretch while Cork could only manage a single point.

Tipp had a two-week break before this game while it was Cork’s third match in a row. Only the players and management will really know if fatigue was a factor in that crucial ten-minute spell, but the evidence from the past two seasons’ ‘round robin’ series would suggest that it was.

Replacements off the bench and switches worked well for Tipp manager Liam Sheedy. He brought Willie Connors on for an out-of-sorts John McGrath and Connors brought an energy and craft to Tipp’s efforts in the second half, as he had done last season when introduced against Wexford.

Connors hit a point and fellow replacement Paul Flynn got two, while the switch of Morris outfield gave Tipp the required energy and impetus to carry them home.

Fifteen minutes into the second half Declan Dalton picked up an injury. This was a considerable blow to Kieran Kingston. Dalton had been very effective around the middle of the attack and his strength and aggression was missed down the home straight. Cork’s replacements made no scoring contribution.

Tipp won the toss and elected to play with the elements. Having won the toss against Limerick in similar conditions I was surprised that day when they played against the wind. However, they had learned from that game. It is easier to hold a lead in such conditions rather than mount a comeback.

Cork were fast out of the blocks. There was great intensity to their play and they worked the ball short upfield with clever support running. Kingston’s tactics worked well. Mark Coleman was ‘sitting’ just in front of Tipp’s full-forward, Seamie Callanan, preventing direct deliveries to him. Centre half-forward Dalton played deep and Cork’s half forwards dropped back. They covered acres of ground, supplementing the efforts of Luke Meade and Bill Cooper in midfield. 

Full of belief and hunting in packs, they pressurised Tipp throughout the pitch. Cork covered the space in front of their 45m-line and obstructed the corridors that Tipp needed to channel ball to their full-forwards.

Cork’s full- and half-back lines were on top, with Tim O’Mahoney and Sean O’Donoghue particularly prominent. Tipp looked a little rattled in this half and short of attacking ideas. They struck 12 wides and it must have been very frustrating for their inside attack as they received virtually no supply.

However, the Rebels were unable to shackle Tipp midfielder Michael Breen. He made a big psychological sideline tackle on Damien Cahalane and he slotted over three very valuable points from midfield in the first period. His strong running caused Cork major problems in both halves and 0-5 from play was a huge return from midfield.

Minutes after the first water break, an intended pass to Brendan Maher, who was positioned too close to a ruck, was intercepted by Patrick Horgan. He ran powerfully straight at the goal.

As Brian Hogan moved slightly to his left, in anticipation of an offload to Jack O’Connor, the Cork captain fired a low shot to Hogan’s right and into the corner. This goal positioned Cork nicely and it seemed it might be the most important score of the match.

However, in the 42nd minute with just a point separating the teams, Tipp moved the ball with purpose down their right-wing after a short puckout. A clever ball found Jason Forde in a ‘one-on-one’ with his marker Colm Spillane. Forde showed great determination in taking on Spillane on the endline, making an angle for himself before shooting a fine individual goal.

This underlined a key difference between the teams. It was a goal out of nothing and Cork will have to learn how to exploit ‘one-on-ones’ and to be more aware of goal opportunities if they wish to join the top table.

Small things decide games. There are always ‘ifs and buts’.

The game was a draw and in the balance with 10 minutes remaining when Darragh Fitzgibbon, who brought some energy to the proceedings, made a fine run goalwards. Shane Kingston positioned himself perfectly near the goal to take a pass but it never came.

It was a glorious goal opportunity wasted. A major score at that juncture would have propelled the Rebels to victory.

Cork have come in for some justified criticism in this championship but no Rebel supporter could complain about a lack of effort or workrate on Saturday.

This team gave everything they had. Tipp just had a little bit more.

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