What a difference a year makes; from the historic jubilant scenes after beating Cork in Semple Stadium last year to the sheer devastation of Saturday night’s narrow loss.
In what has been a turbulent couple of weeks in Tipperary GAA circles it was nice to get down to brass tacks and focus on matters on the field.
Even taking into account injuries and suspensions, expectation levels were high travelling down to Páirc Uí Rinn that Tipperary could cause another upset.
Considering the prize on offer for the winners, I fully expected both teams to be cagey and deploy sweepers but no one could have envisaged how poor this game would turn out to be, especially in the first-half.
Cork looked a team short on confidence. In the first few minutes, playing with the aid of a strong wind, they created two great goalscoring chances, for Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan. Both should have been put away. Tipp looked set for a gruelling evening.
From there until the end of the half, it was as poor a display as I have ever seen from any Cork team. To score one point in 40 minutes of championship football was embarrassing, to say the least. They lacked leaders and didn’t seem to have any clear game plan.
I couldn’t understand why Cork did not push up on the Tipp kickouts considering Kieran Kenrick was making his first start for Tipp in goal. Instead, they allowed Tipp build very well from the back, something they were good at last year.
However, it was up front that Tipp suffered. With the frees missed, Liam Kearns may regret not starting Kevin O’Halloran. Hindsight is great but O’Halloran very rarely misses those chances.
Better accuracy would have given Tipp a commanding lead going in at half-time, with the elements in their favour in the second. They would have been set up nicely.
These wides, and the several balls dropped into Ken O’Halloran’s hands, proved very costly. And there were many other good scoring positions when Tipp chose not to shoot. And odd reluctance since they kicked four good points from play.
Sitting in the stand, I could really sense the frustration amongst the Cork supporters towards their team and few could blame them. Tipp controlled most of the first- half but didn’t punish Cork the way they should. So going in at half-time Cork were still well in the game.
Another turning point came along quickly. Despite going five up soon after the restart, Tipp never went for the jugular. Conor Sweeney had kicked two classy points in quick succession and Cork were there for the taking.
Instead of pushing Brian Fox up from his sweeper role, we tried to protect the lead, inviting Cork on. You could see the momentum shift after Paul Kerrigan’s first point. Cork players began to push up on the Tipp kickout, forcing Kenrick to go long.
Cork trusted their midfielders to win primary possession, which they did. How Tipp could have done with Michael Quinlivan around the middle during this shaky period, just to settle things down and get Tipp back into the game.
His class and experience were badly needed at a time when the game was going away from Tipp. He would also have helped Conor Sweeney closer to goal. The pair ran defences ragged last year.
The movement in the Cork forward division in the second-half was light years ahead of what they produced in the first-half. Powter, Hurley and Collins injected the pace that really troubled a Tipp defence that was out on its feet.
That trio must have put themselves in contention for a starting place on July 2. Tipp simply didn’t have the strength in depth and our substitutes couldn’t bring the same impact.
In his acceptance interview for a richly deserved man of the match award, Conor Sweeney denied Tipp were naïve after his goal. I’d have to disagree.
To concede within 40 seconds in such a tight low-scoring game is unforgivable. Cork waltzed through the centre without a hand being laid on them to score a well-worked goal.
Tipp needed a clever head at this stage to take a yellow or black card for the cause. But credit too must go to Ken O’Halloran in the Cork goal for his quick restart, catching the celebrating Tipp forwards off guard.
Had a Tipp player done what Owen Duffy did for Monaghan in the closing stages yesterday then they would be looking ahead to a second successive Munster Final appearance. Naivety for sure.
fter all the stick the Cork players have taken since the Waterford game and their abysmal first-half display on Saturday, they deserve great credit for grinding out this result.
They are still where they want to be, preparing for a Munster Final in three weeks. Had someone offered that to Peadar Healy following the defeat by Clare in the league, he’d have taken it.
It’s back to the qualifiers for Tipp. Who knows if they can emulate some of last year’s heroics?
Liam Kearns and his team deserve a bit of luck on the injury front so, hopefully, Quinlivan, Austin, Kennedy and co will be recovered in time. These Tipp players have faced down adversity before and given Tipp supporters plenty of good days over the last 12 months.
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