Cork will believe they can give Tipperary a fair rattle, writes Anthony Daly.
I’m in Clonmel tonight for a preview evening hosted by the St Mary’s club in the town. A good line-up has been assembled; John Mullane, Seanie McGrath, Tommy Walsh, Richie Stakelum. Kevin Leahy from St Mary’s is organising the event and we got chatting during the week about all the epic Cork-Tipperary clashes of the past, and how the purists and traditionalists are still pining for those halcyon days.
Those massive events in the calendar have long passed now but it is easy to see why.
“One word,” I said to Kevin. “Knockout.”
There were 29,000 at this fixture last year, which was a surprise, but the days of packing Thurles or Páirc Ui Chaoimh out for a first round Cork-Tipp match are long over. The qualifier era, and the arrival of many new teams, has diluted the Cork-Tipp brand.
When the new hurling round-robin system is introduced next year, the old nostalgia of Cork-Tipp will be watered down even more. That new home-and-away system is suited for helter-skelter matches in Cusack Park, Pearse Stadium, and Walsh Park, but it is easy to see Cork and Tipp getting even more lost in a half-vacant Semple Stadium or Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The intrigue always added to the mystique of this fixture but all of that has been stripped away by how far Tipp have pushed ahead of Cork over the last decade. Tipp may have lost some of the shine from their aura after the league final, but anytime a big gun ships a hiding, the impulse is to believe that a backlash is imminent.
I don’t think Cork will be too put out by that perception because they’ve been written off since this fixture was thrown up in the draw last October. I think it’s a great place for Cork to be in — going into Tipp’s backyard, under zero pressure. And I’m sure Kieran Kingston has been hammering home that point to the Cork players all week.
The general Cork GAA supporters just want results. They want to beat Tipp, no matter what. They’re horrified by the prospect of Cork losing a third successive first- round Munster championship match for the first time in history but I think the diehards have looked beyond all that. Their eyes are trained more on the bigger picture; Cork have blooded talented young players this spring, most of whom will be key pillars for the future; Cork have even better talent coming after them.
Those same diehards will also see this as an ideal opportunity for Cork to try and cut loose, to play with the shackles off, to just have a cut. Cork won’t have a sweeper. It could prove costly but the Cork GAA public don’t want it. Furthermore, Cork may feel that they don’t need it, that they will take their chances with what they have.
How solid is Tipp’s form either? They were brilliant early in the season but ever since that epic clash with Kilkenny in mid-March, they haven’t hit anything like those same heights. They may not have needed, or wanted to, but they certainly didn’t want the no-show they got in the league final against Galway. They got the job done impressively against Wexford but?the Model men gave them bags of it for 60 minutes.
They’ve had other headaches to deal with too coming into this fixture. How fit is Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher? Or Micky Cahill? Seamus Callanan can’t have been able to do much hurling over the last few weeks with a broken thumb. Jason Forde is (wrongly) suspended. Maybe Tipp’s stack of options isn’t as deep as we all thought they were six weeks ago. For the first time since Aaron Shanagher careered through for a Clare goal in last year’s league quarter-final, there are question marks over this Tipp defence.
An All-Ireland does grant a greater level of confidence but I still think there will have been a certain amount of anxiety in the Tipp camp this week. I thought they had turned the corner. I thought Mick Ryan’s style of management would have blown away even the possibility of that kind of a performance against Galway.
Now we all have doubts. Everyone outside the squad will be expecting a performance, a big-show, almost as a form of recompense for the league final collapse. The players will be keen too to flush those toxins out of their system but Mick Ryan and his players will just be anxious to get the job done, scrape over the line if they have to, and get out of Dodge alive.
I still fancy Tipp to win the All-Ireland but I’m not sure that they will win Munster. I do think they will have enough to win tomorrow but Waterford will ask more serious questions of Tipp in the semi-final. If Tipp negotiate that hurdle, Clare or Limerick won’t make life easy for Tipp in the final either.
Paradoxically, for Tipp to win back-to-back All-Irelands, they may be better off going through the back-door. Winning three games in Munster in successive seasons is no easy task. Tipp could be beaten in a Munster final and have already played three hard games. Then they’d face another three to have to reclaim Liam MacCarthy. No team thinks about alternative routes on the eve of the championship but maybe it would work out better for Tipp in the long run. Whatever happens, they will be judged on winning successive All-Irelands, not three Munster titles in a row.
Tipp will have learned a great deal from the league final but so will Cork. They will have looked closely at how Galway limited the impact of the Tipperary half-back line. Tipp won’t want their half-backs sucked in like they were that day in the Gaelic Grounds. I suspect that Pádraic Maher won’t be chasing his man around like a hare as he did, or tried to, on Cathal Mannion. Paudie will protect his patch more. And if he clears three or four balls, Cork may feel under pressure to try and tie Paudie down more, especially when the Tipp crowd often take their tone from the tenor of Paudie’s long clearances.
I expect Pádraic and his brother Ronan to make a big statement tomorrow but some of the other players’ form would worry me. ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is a championship player but he still needs to prove that he can drive it on from last year’s All-Ireland final display. Michael Breen was brilliant when he came on against Wexford but he hasn’t taken it on to the level he threatened to last year. Neither have a few others. Is that down to fatigue after such a mentally draining season last year? Kilkenny never had those issues but Tipp are not Kilkenny in their prime.
Neither are Cork but they will still believe that they can give Tipp a fair rattle. The Cork crowd will travel in force. They will hope to put up a decent score. They should but I doubt it will be enough. Tipp won last year by nine points but I expect Cork to halve that deficit tomorrow.
Tipp by around four points.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved