Cork show they’re not a spent force

WHAT a weekend in Thurles.

Apart from the game yesterday, there was another major event in the town on Saturday evening in the Anner Hotel. It was the launch of the book The Rattler, the story of Mickey Byrne, one of the legendary members of the original Hell’s Kitchen Tipperary full-back line of the late 40s and early 50s, as told to Michael Dundon. A massive crowd, filled every corner of the hall, and what a night – what a testament too to a great hurler and an even greater character.

Which brings me nicely to the game yesterday, because this was a Munster Championship game of great hurlers, and great characters. Before I get into the hurling, what’s this warm-up coming to at all? Cork had so many cones and bollards for their pre-game routine I thought I was after wandering into a roadworks zone – ridiculous. Is there a prize for that nowadays, or what?

Anyway, to the game. If this had been played two years ago, I believe Tipp would have lost it; even if it had been played last year, this early in the season, they would have lost it. They did lose to Cork in 2010 but it wasn’t a game like this. In fact I believe Cork played better hurling yesterday, way better hurling, than they did last year. The difference between Tipp then and Tipp now, between Tipp of 2009 and Tipp now — they are All-Ireland champions, and it’s hard to bring down genuine champions.

Nowhere did they show this more than late in the second half after Cork had fought back from being seven points down to draw level; then we saw the champions stepping forward, the class of Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan, the work rate of Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and John O’Brien. This Tipperary forward unit is special; they can all score but they can all work, and work really hard; they had to do that yesterday, and when the need was greatest, in those final minutes, that’s when they most produced. They were flattered by the winning margin, they were nowhere near being eight points a better team, and if Cork had managed to nudge ahead, who knows what might have happened.

That’s just conjecture however; we can only discuss what we saw, rather than what might have been. Mind you, Cork were also party to their own destruction. The obvious fault to pick out here was the final goal, Eoin Cadogan getting caught by Patrick Maher, losing possession. Eoin would be better off just to get rid of the ball, rather than inviting the tackle. I know he’s a strong man but this game is about a lot more than being macho – you must use your brain too.

Other examples of Cork not helping their own cause, the substitution of Lorcan McLoughlin; Tom Kenny is a fine player, but McLoughlin was having a superb game. Tom could have been brought in at wing-back, Brian Murphy going back to the corner in place of Shane O’Neill, who was clearly lacking match-fitness.

Cork did make a move there, brought on Jamie Nagle, but that should have been done much earlier. Most baffling of all, the late double substitution of Patrick Horgan (especially) and Paudie O’Sullivan – what was that about?

Yes, they were coming too far out the field but they were both playing well, and should have been instructed simply to stay deeper, one of them at least. They were causing real problems for the Tipperary full-back line, as was young Luke O’Farrell – Cork should have stuck with them, just told them to hold the inside line more.

Tipp too made mistakes on the line. David Young was getting a roasting from Niall McCarthy, should have been substituted earlier; same could be said for Shane McGrath in midfield, who was clearly struggling. The Tipp subs, however, did make a difference, Conor O’Mahony (defence) and Benny Dunne (attack) especially. Conor used his experience well, pulling down Patrick Horgan and conceding a free and yellow card instead of a goal in the 66th minute, when the game was still very much in the balance.

Summing up, Tipp proved why they’re All-Ireland champions; there’s a mission there to win back-to-back titles, but you wonder – could they meet this Cork team again, down the line? Don’t write it off, and anyone out there who said Cork are second-tier this year – start eating your hats. What a great start to the Munster championship, and great credit to both teams. It would have done credit to the glory days of these great hurling counties in the Munster championship, back when The Rattler was in his pomp. He was surely a proud man yesterday.

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