Cunningham says the Premier County will be aiming to go one better than they did last year, losing the All-Ireland final to Kilkenny, even if Galway have stolen their thunder recently.
“Tipp would be ranked as the second-best team in the country after last year, having come so close to beating Kilkenny in what was a fantastic All-Ireland final.
“As you come into a new year, they were probably the pretenders, the team most likely to challenge Kilkenny but the fact that Galway came through so impressively to win the national league final is probably after taking attention away from Tipperary.
“There’s pressure on Tipp. They’re one of the top two or three teams and they won a lot of games last year and gave away big leads in some of those games, though they rectified that later in the year.
“Everyone starts from the same position in a new campaign but they’ll feel the pressure on Sunday.”
Cunningham, sponsorship manager for Bord Gáis Eireann, was speaking at the launch of the U21 hurling championship, which Bord Gáis Energy sponsors. He was optimistic about the Rebels’ chances.
“I wouldn’t have been as pessimistic about Cork after the league final as some people. The Galway keeper could have been man of the match, which showed Cork had goal chances; I’m sure the Cork players were disappointed to lose a final but I feel they may have had one eye on the game this Sunday.”
The former goalkeeper said he had faith that Cork’s experienced players, like Seán Óg O hAilpín, would produce the goods on Sunday.
“Looking at the Cork championships, the players are still performing and you have to pick what’s in front of you. They’re still good players.
“As for Seán Óg, I wouldn’t base everything on one game.
“Seán got caught by Damien Hayes for an early goal in the league final and like anything, if you get a bad start it can lead to things getting worse.
“He’s an experienced player, one of the fittest players in the country and I’ve no doubt you’ll see a different Seán Óg on Sunday.”
Cork will again be reliant on O hAilpín and his half-back colleagues, says Cunningham.
“They’ve been the lynchpin in recent years – three big men, three good hurlers, they’re very important and Cork will need them to play well. People say Tipp’s half-forward line is potentially their weakest line and Cork will need their half-backs to play well – they’ve been brilliant since coming together.
“It’s cliche stuff but it’s 50-50. Very tight, very difficult to call.”