Fitting because it would have been a real travesty of justice had Tipperary been deprived of the spoils they had fought for so outstandingly well. It was also appropriate that a corner back should garner the all-important score to tie the game because Kelly’s heroic act served to highlight most the unexpected in this absorbing duel.
Nobody, but nobody, gave Tipperary a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this final. It was, in the eyes of most, a foregone conclusion before the off. How wrong, totally wrong, they all were. Tipperary not alone sat at the top table in comfortable ease with a Cork side, acclaimed because the manner in which they defeated Kerry in the semi-final, but they out shone their supposed hosts in the grandest manner possible.
Cork should go down on their bender knees and thank team captain Colin Corkery, wing forward Brendan Jer O’Sullivan and goalkeeper Kevin O’Dwyer, for keeping their hopes of Munster glory alive.
Corkery, with five points, two from frees, was the only Cork player to score in the second half. His contribution was immense as Tipperary came close, so close, to springing the surprise of the season. Brendan Jer O’Sullivan’s two goals in the first half, after Cork were reeling, following Tipperary’ early onslaught, were of inestimable value in keeping a most disappointing Cork side in the race. While, O’Dwyer made two spectacular saves at vital stages, to hold Tipperary at bay when they threatened, most menacingly, to upset the Rebels’ applecart.
With Declan Browne turning in a performance of pure magic Cork found themselves under the cosh from the off. What a player this fellow is. Starting in the full forward position he led the Cork defence a merry dance, scoring three points in the opening nine minutes, as a rampant, highly composed, and most professional Tipperary side opened up an 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
Browne looked every inch of the All star he justifiably is. During the course of the game Cork played three men on him. Eoin Sexton, Graham Canty and Anthony Lynch. None could subdue him. Lynch came closest. The Moyle Rovers star ended up with eight points to his credit, three from frees, and apart from his inspirational kicking Browne was undoubtedly the star of this match, with Colin Corkery in second place.
Most pundits would agree that centre field is the most important sector in gaelic football. Cork were wiped out in this area yesterday. Both Nicholas Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan being called ashore during the seventy three minutes. Tipp’s pairing in the centre of Kevin Mulryan and Liam England, were most energetic and picked up the monopoly of breaking ball. As a consequence the Cork defence was under consistent pressure in the opening sequences and Browne, in fabulous form, wrote the script with Cork playing a most definite second part role.
Wing forward Damien O’Brien scorned a great opportunity, through over elaboration, to stretch Tipp’s lead to five points and this was a big let off for a Cork team struggling disconcertingly to come to grips with their game all over the field. If O’Brien had pointed, when he should, things could have been all so different for Tipp because the raging hot favourites were on the rack at this stage.
It was Ciaran O’Sullivan, who had a quite game by his standards, obviously suffering from an injury, who lifted the siege for Cork when he broke down the right wing and placed Corkery for a point. Then in the 17th minute Brendan Jer O’Sullivan, going like the hammers in hell, tore through the Tipperary defence and after running at least 50 metres billowed the net with a cracking shot. Did O’Sullivan over carry the ball? The jury is out on that one. Referee Gerry Kinneavy from Roscommon didn’t think so.
What a god send this goal was for a struggling Cork team, however. And O’Sullivan hammered another huge nail into Tipperary’s coffin of hope, two minutes before the interval break, when after Alan Cronin and Philip Clifford had combined to set up the Adrigole man with a chance, his shot went via the hands of Tipperary goalkeeper Philly Ryan into the net.
A lucky break, the rub of the green, call it what you want, but O’Sullivan’s second goal was responsible for edging Cork 2-6 to 0-8 in front at half-time, and for a side that had waded through stormy seas at the outset this was a most comfortable position to be indeed.
When Corkery magnificently kicked over within seconds of the resumption it looked as if Cork, would at last confirm the predictions made by the prophets of doom and gloom as far as Tipperary’s prospects of success in this Munster final were concerned.
But Tipperary never lost their composure. They played very neat and intelligent football and when substitute Benny Hickey goaled in the 45th minute, after Kevin O’Dwyer had initially made a great save from a Declan Browne attempt, not alone were Tipp back in the lead by a point, but looking good to apply the coup de grace.
Things looked very ominous for Cork, when Lambert and Browne were successful in converting two free scoring opportunities to extend their side’s lead top three points entering the closing quarter.
It was then that the magnificent Corkery came to Cork’s rescue with three marvellous points on the trot, two from frees, to level the game with seven minutes remaining. And when the Nemo Rangers ace marksman hit another cracker to propel Cork into the lead two minutes from the end of normal time Tipperary’s brave goose looked to be cooked.
But on a day in which they excelled and lifted their county’s football status to heady, new heights Tipperary struck back with Niall Kelly’s deserved equaliser.
Dual player Diarmuid O’Sullivan, might have had the winner for Cork in the end but his shot for a point went wide and so it is back to Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the replay on Sunday next.
Scorers. Tipperary. B. Hickey 1 0; D. Browne 0 8 (0 3 from frees); P. Lambert 0 3 (0 1 from free); P. Cahill, N. Kelly and L. England (45) 0 1 each.
Cork. B. J. O’Sullivan 2 0; C. Corkery 0 7 (0 3 from frees); F. Murray 0 2; N. Murphy and P. Clifford 0 1 each.
TIPPERARY: P. Ryan; B. Hahessy, D. Byrne, N. Kelly; S. Maher, S. Collum, N. Fitzgerald; K. Mulryan, L. England; P. Cahill, F. O’Callaghan, D. O’Brien; P. Lambert, D. Browne, B. Cummins. Subs. B. Hickey for England (41st minute): W. Morrissey for Maher (63rd minute); M. Spillane for Hickey (67th minute).
CORK K. O’Dwyer; E. Sexton, C. O’Sullivan, A. Lynch; S. Levis, R. McCarthy, G. Canty; N. Murphy, M. O’Sullivan; B. J. O’Sullivan, M. Cronin, A. Cronin; P. Clifford, C. Corkery, F. Murray. Subs. J. Kavanagh for M. O’Sullivan (41st minute); D. O’Sullivan for A. Cronin (50th minute); M. McCarthy for Murphy (51st minute); C. Crowley for Clifford (64th minute).
Referee. G. Kinneavy (Roscommon).