Kieran Kingston mentioned on these pages last week the Cork management wanted a performance that would make them proud. After 20 minutes in Semple Stadium on Sunday, that had been achieved.
Cork went toe to toe with the All-Ireland champions and were holding their own. Precision, composure and patience — as well as huge work-rate and delicate skills — were hallmarks of their performance.
There wasn’t a whole lot between the teams at any stage but Cork’s work-rate was superior and after Tipp’s goal they responded immediately through Conor Lehane, who had 20 possessions, Cork’s highest. I have never seen him work as hard. Shane Kingston then pushed Cork in front again. Down the stretch, Cork dominated proceedings, showing very high fitness levels. Tipp lost their final five puckouts and the management may regret the loss of last year’s physical trainer Lukasz Kirszenstein, to Galway.
Cork rotated their forwards constantly and the pace of the Rebels frontmen had an unsettling effect on Tipp’s defence. A fundamental defensive mistake handed Cork their second and match-winning goal. Earlier, Tipp ‘keeper Darren Gleeson, who is not having a vintage season, conceded a soft goal to Shane Kingston.
Tipp’s defence, so assured last year, but without the experienced Micky Cahill, were under pressure from the off. As expected, Cathal Barrett marked Pat Horgan but this part of the plan didn’t last very long as Alan Cadogan had John O’Keeffe (who in this scribe’s opinion is not a corner-back) in a lot of trouble while Seamie Harnedy was superb running James Barry ragged.
Forty deliveries were sent into Cork’s full-forward line in the course of the game and the quality of these contributed hugely to the 2-27 scoreline. Cork worked the ball cleverly from defence, principally through Mark Ellis and Mark Coleman who had 15 possessions each. Darragh Fitzgibbon used his pace to link the ball to the half- forwards as Cork transitioned sensibly from defence to attack, wasting little ball.
The first half set the pattern as Cork won 13 of Anthony Nash’s 20 puckouts. A 65% win ratio on your own puckouts is a highly impressive statistic.
Crucially, the Rebels conceded no goals before half-time as their defence worked diligently supporting each other, supplemented by midfielder Bill Cooper. Keeper Anthony Nash looked sharp and made a vital brave block with his legs when Seamus Callanan elected to go low with his shot when in one on one.
On Sunday in the stadium, I bumped into former Tipp captain Eoin Kelly and Cork’s Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy, two excellent goalscorers in their time, who were watching the proceedings courtesy of new sponsors Littlewoods Ireland. Murphy flashed into my mind when Callanan missed the goal chance. In that position, Murphy would have cooly batted the ball to the net. Callanan is a good goalscorer but I’m surprised he doesn’t employ this technique, which is difficult to defend. Back in 2014 against Limerick, Callanan was hooked with the goal at his mercy and in that year’s All-Ireland final, at a critical time in the game, Callanan elected to shoot when bearing down on goal instead of going the extra metre and batting the ball to the net. JJ Delaney got back to make a vital tackle. If Tipp had scored that goal at that time in the game I have no doubt that they would have won. Last Sunday was much the same. A goal for Tipp, just before half-time, would have been huge in the context of the game.
Noel McGrath would also have been disappointed earlier when he failed to offload to his brother John in a great position and had to be satisfied with a kicked point.
I was baffled by Tipp’s forward structure in their wind-assisted second half. It did little to help their overall defensive effort as it allowed easy outlet ball for Mark Coleman and Mark Ellis.
On their day, Tipp have the best full-forward unit in the game. However, they elected to play only Seamus Callanan inside and then continually sent the ball out to the right wing drawing him away from goal. He set up a great goal for John McGrath but I didn’t understand the role McGrath and Bubbles Dwyer were asked to play out from goal.
I wrote on Saturday last Cork’s corner-backs were vulnerable. On the contrary, they were superb on Sunday but I couldn’t understand why Tipp didn’t test them in the traditional corner positions.
Cork’s management can take a bow, they got everything right tactically. On the other hand, Michael Ryan will ponder long and hard about their sideline and on-field performance.
Cathal Barrett suffered what looked like a serious knee injury on Sunday, but hopefully it doesn’t turn out to be as bad as feared. He is one of the top defenders in the country and the game needs these type of corner-backs. I’d like to send him best wishes and hope we will see him back on the field of play soon.
During the exhilarating action at Semple Stadium, I couldn’t help worry about the proposals to restructure the provincial championships.
A new round-robin system seems likely to be introduced, with three groups, fixing the Galway ‘home games’ issue, while offering the carrot of two home games to the ‘top tier’ counties.
No doubt county boards will be in favour, particularly from a financial viewpoint, because they will receive 10% of the gate. However, I am concerned these proposals haven’t been thought through. Long term, the ‘cut and thrust’ of the championship may be diluted and crowds may drift away.
On Sunday, there was a tremendous atmosphere. Patrons were treated to first class sporting entertainment only available in this county, in a full-blooded championship game. Amateur players will not be able to serve up the type of intensity on show last Sunday on a weekly basis. If the proposals for a ‘round robin’ Munster Championship get the green light, weekly or bi-weekly inter-county encounters will drop in intensity and the value of the product will suffer.
Walsh Park and Cusack Park in Ennis will have two games each, the capacity approximately 11,500 and 14,500, respectively. These games will be all-ticket affairs. What share of the tickets will the opposition receive and what percentage of tickets will be reserved for youngsters?
Much his made of the developmental aspect to these proposals. However, if there are no special provisions for school-going children, unless their parents fork out for adult tickets, the future is being compromised.
Young hurlers like to see their heroes in action and to get up close for autographs, selfies and hurley signings after games. These personal encounters are a major inspiration to young hurlers/camogie players. Of course if you can’t see your heroes in the flesh, television is the next best choice.
At present, all the Munster hurling games are televised live and a similar amount in Leinster. However to run this programme, three or four matches will have to be played over the same weekend and probably at the same time as big football contests.
There is the distinct probability that some hurling games will not be shown. This won’t do a whole lot for the development of hurling. If you lose the youth the future is lost. Where will the club programme be in all this and will the intercounty stars be expected to represent their clubs if there is an intercounty break on the odd weekend?
This might be ok for a year or two but eventually something will give. To quote Tipp manager Michael Ryan, “they (the players) are not machines”.
I’d leave the provincial competitions as they are but tighten the time-frame and hold finals in June. The ‘losers’ would play in a qualifier/back door system, as at present.
Four from this eight would join the finalists of each province in two groups of four in a round robin.
The provincial champions would be guaranteed two home games. The runners-up would be guaranteed one. The top two in each group would then go on to the semi-finals. This round robin would take place in July, necessitating only three weekends to complete and cut the six-week gap of inactivity for provincial winners.
No club activity would take place during this time, which would be flagged from the beginning of the year. This would bring some fixture certainty to club players. The semi-finals would take place over one weekend in August with the final on its traditional September date or a week before.
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