A win for Tipp would have opened up the possibility of the teams meeting again in the final, just weeks ahead of their opening-round Munster championship match on May 30, while a win for Cork (or a draw), then a loss for them next week against Galway and a win for Tipp over Offaly, could still have resulted in the same scenario.
Complicated, yes, but the question was legitimate – would we get a real match or would it just be shadow-boxing?
Well, shadow-boxing it certainly was not, especially after Patrick Horgan’s brilliant goal for Cork in the 53rd minute, the Leesiders’ first score of the second half. At that stage, Tipp had turned a four-point half-time disadvantage into a four-point lead and looking to be heading for a comprehensive win.
Horgan’s goal changed all that, and from there to the finish it was hell-for-leather, Cork just about deserving the win, setting up a league final against Galway. Mind you, it could have been over at the break; three times in the opening five minutes Aisake O hAilpín caused chaos around the Tipp kitchen, three superb catches that could have resulted in goals.
For the first, he failed to spot the run of Paudie O’Sullivan, had his close-range shot blocked by the superb Michael Cahill; for the second he was fouled by an increasingly panicky Pádraic Maher, the free ! converted for a point by the excellent Patrick Horgan; for the third Aisake did lay off to Paudie, but the Cloyne youngster took a step too far towards the Tipperary goal, and Brendan Cummins duly body-blocked.
Cork continued to dominate, however, led at the break 0-11 to 0-7, having conceded a few soft frees to the accurate Eoin Kelly, but a major talking point afterwards was the shifting of Aisake to centre-forward after about 10 minutes.
Why, when he was doing so well inside? A pre-planned move? From manager Denis Walsh, an enigmatic answer. “It was something we looked at,” he said, “It would have depended on whether we had the wind or not in the first half (they had). As it turned out Paudie (O’Sullivan, shifted to full-forward) probably played better against the wind, so that little test stood up today – will that do you?”
It will have to do us, but it begs the question – in shifting Aisake from where he was causing serious damage and thus solving a problem for Tipp, were Cork simply being too rigid in sticking to that pre-game plan, or were they being clever, holding something back for the championship?
Whatever, with Aisake now in the half-forward line – where he continued to cause problems – there was very definite relief inside for Tipperary.
The second half saw an almost total reversal of hurling fortunes, and it was Tipp’s turn to show profligacy in front of goal, two good chances gone a-begging in the opening minutes, Martin Coleman with a super save off Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly then closed down by Brian Murphy.
Five points on the trot saw Tipp lead for the first time in the game in the 46th minute; then came their goal, a beauty.
Cork were having difficulty winning their own puckouts, far too predictable in putting everything down on top of Aisake, who was simply being spoiled, a Tipp man always on hand to pick up the break. On this occasion midfielder Brendan Maher picked up the pieces, taking off on a run, parting to Paul Kelly, who beat three defenders before blazing past Coleman.
It put Tipp in the driving seat, 1-12 to 0-11, signalled a real test for Cork – and how they responded.
A low Tadhg Óg Murphy cross was superbly taken into the hand by Paudie O’Sullivan, whose shot was parried by Brendan Cummins, and broke to the lurking Pat Horgan. Showing superb control, Pat brought the ball down inside Michael Cahill, drilled past Cummins – game back on. That was the 55th minute, and from there to the end it was tremendous fare, a fired-up Cork edging ahead, then managing to hold out against a late Tipperary surge.
Scorers for Cork: P. Horgan 1-7 (0-6 frees); C. Naughton 0-3; J. O’Connor 0-2; T. Kenny 0-2; J. Gardiner (free), L. McLoughlin, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: E. Kelly 0-6 (0-5 frees); P. Kelly 1-2; N. McGrath 0-3; G. Ryan 0-2; S. McGrath, D. Egan 0-1 each.
Subs for Cork: M. O’Sullivan (McLoughlin 53); K. Murphy (T. Óg Murphy 53).
Subs for Tipperary: J. O’Brien (Hammersley 50); J. Brennan (B. Maher inj. 55); D. Young (Fanning 62); H. Maloney (O’Brien 63); D. Egan (P. Kelly 65).
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).