For some time now the consensus has been that the Cats and Tipp — All-Ireland finalists for the past three years — sit on their own at hurling’s top table, Dublin leading a chasing pack that has been living on scraps. Not any more. Yes, it’s still only the league, but the 15,000+ attendance in Thurles yesterday were witness to a team of real ability, a team ahead of schedule in its development, a team that will surely now harbour ambitions that extend beyond the league final against Kilkenny in two weeks.
Right from the start Cork were in this game and though playing into a strong breeze, carried the fight to Tipperary in the opening 23 minutes, at the end of which they led 0-7 to 0-4. They lost their captain and keeper Donal Óg Cusack during that period (a freak Achilles tendon injury) but just as they had absorbed the loss of four starters from the drawn game against the same opposition in the final league round two weeks ago, so they absorbed Cusack’s loss, took it in their stride, big-hitting Anthony Nash taking over between the sticks.
Jamie Coughlan was causing all sorts of problems at centre-forward for Conor O’Mahony with his pace and skill, wings Pa Cronin and Niall McCarthy were winning their battles, while the inside line of Luke O’Farrell, Paudie O’Sullivan and Patrick Horgan bristled with threat.
At the other end, centre-back Eoin Cadogan again led the line with authority, while behind him Shane O’Neill was enjoying a massive battle with Tipperary’s giant Brian O’Meara, Stephen McDonnell and Conor O’Sullivan doing well alongside. O’Meara deserves special mention. Though on a beaten team, being very tightly marked by the gritty O’Neill, the big man from Kilruane had a superb game; finished with 1-2 and could have been more, his bulk and strength complemented by a silken touch.
By the break Tipp had managed something of a comeback, game tied at 0-10 apiece, free-taker Pa Bourke doing the bulk of their scoring (seven points, five placed balls). It was a false reflection on events, however, Cork already looking the better side.
The second half continued in the same vein, Cork hurling very well throughout the field but hit with two body-blows, goals from O’Meara (46) and sub Eoin Kelly (20m free 53rd min). Each of those goals put Tipp back into the lead, but each time Cork responded immediately with points at the other end — no accident, said Cadogan.
“That’s something we focused on in training; when you get setbacks in games you don’t sit back, you have to try and pick yourself up. The movement of our forwards and the way they were moving — it was great for a back to be looking at that down the field, seeing the points going over like that then the goal as well.”
Ah yes, the Cork goal. It arrived in the 57th minute, Horgan and McCarthy combining to put O’Farrell through; Luke had Paudie O’Sullivan available in the centre — didn’t need him, his blistering angled drive almost taking the rigging from the Tipp goals. It put Cork 1-18 to 2-14 up and when the kids came on, Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam, the icing was put on the cake, Cork outscoring Tipp 1-7 to 0-1 in the final 10 minutes to romp home.
It was total hurling, the forwards running up a big score, midfield supplying the ammo, the backs doing a suffocating job on the dangerous Tipp attack. “We’re working as a unit,” Eoin Cadogan explained: “Any defence in the country has to be tight when you have the likes of Eoin Kelly roaming around the place, Noel McGrath as well. We stood up to them well today but they will be a different animal come championship.”
It’s not just the kids doing the business either, says Eoin. “The old as well, you had Tom Kenny coming on too. It’s a huge bonus when the legs are getting tired to see these fresh guys coming in.
With his first touch Conor Lehane puts the ball over the bar, as did Darren Sweetnam, that was a huge bonus for the backs looking down the field. Overall we can be delighted with today.”
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (6f); L O’Farrell 1-2; N McCarthy 0-3; W Egan 0-3 (2f); P Cronin 0-2; C Lehane 0-2; J Gardiner, P O’Sullivan, D Sweetnam, A Nash (f), 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: P Bourke 0-7 (5f); B O’Meara 1-2; E Kelly 1-1 (1-1f); G Ryan 0-2; J Woodlock, N McGrath, J O’Brien, 0-1 each.
Subs for Cork: A Nash (Cusack inj. 17); T Kenny (Ó hAilpín 60); C Lehane (Coughlan 60); D Sweetnam (McCarthy 66); C McCarthy (McLoughlin 67).
Tipperary Subs: S Maher (Young 28); E Kelly (S Bourke 45); S McGrath (B Maher 48); S Curran (Woodlock 61); J O’Neill (N McGrath 68).
Referee: M Wadding (Waterford).