Given there was little breeze, given how Cork were performing in every position on the field, there was simply no way back from such a huge deficit for Tipperary.
They did mount a recovery, went level pegging with Cork for the second half (0-12 to 1-9) and finished with a sharper-looking side than that with which they started. But let there be no doubt, this was a huge setback for Tipperary and new boss Eamon O’Shea as they set out to re-establish themselves as worthy challengers to Kilkenny, and equally, a major early-season boost for Cork.
“The long-ball wasn’t necessarily the game-plan but when you’re under pressure it’s very hard to play the game you want to play,” said O’Shea, “It’s very early in the year in terms of where we want to go with styles of play or game-plans, we’re still trying to develop that. I’m not using that as an excuse for anything that happened on the pitch. They just out-hustled us, we were beaten by a superior team.”
In a five-game league it leaves Tipperary already playing catch-up. O’Shea admitted: “Losing the first game puts us under pressure straight away. We have four games in-a-row from two weeks’ time and we’ll be working hard to win some of those. We have an awful lot of work to do just to stay in this division.”
It was a really poor performance by Tipperary in the first half, seven wides not helping their cause, but credit must also go to Cork. It’s only February, ‘only’ the league and the opening round at that, but this was a team that looked like it was already well on the way to full championship fitness and full championship sharpness.
Not that selector and team spokesman Kieran Kingston was about to get carried away, rejecting out of hand the suggestion that this throws down a marker for all the other sides in this division. “It doesn’t. It’s one game, we’ve won that, we’re happy with it, now we focus on the next game. We saw what happened last year, we had a great result in our first game against Waterford, played really, really well, but the year didn’t go as well as we thought it would. We won’t get carried away with tonight because we know Tipperary are not in form yet. We asked the lads before the game for a performance, for workrate and that’s what we got.”
He certainly got the workrate, from the forwards especially who, far from letting the Tipperary defence get in targeted clearances, prevented them almost as often as not from getting in any kind of clearance, while not foregoing their own primary duty as scorers. In fact not alone did every starting Cork forward score from play, so too did both midfielders, the outstanding Daniel Kearney (3) and Lorcán McLoughlin, while half-backs Christopher Joyce and William Egan, who also starred, also chipped in, along with substitute Michael Walsh. Indeed the hosts had 11 scorers on the night.
Satisfying, agreed Kingston, but again, let’s not get carried away. “The scorers were well spread but we’re still very much in development. We started off tonight with 15 players, not one of whom has a senior medal hurling with Cork (only three players over 25, Nash, O’Neill and Moylan) – this is a huge step-up for them. It’s only a league game, it’s only February, we won’t get carried away. At least they showed that there’s some hope that as the year goes on we might be able to develop, mightn’t be as bad people think, hopefully.”
Hopefully? Keeper Anthony Nash was razor-sharp and laser-like in his clearances, the six backs defended with aggression but with discipline, midfield were well on top, and the six forwards worked as one, Patrick Horgan doing most of the finishing but everyone working like demons and everyone contributing. Early days yes, but positive signs Leeside.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan 0-13 (9f); D Kearney 0-3; S Moylan 0-2; C Joyce, W Egan, L McLoughlin, C McCarthy, P O’Sullivan, C Lehane, L O’Farrell, M Walsh, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary:E Kelly 1-0; J O’Dwyer 0-3; N McGrath 0-3 (3f); L Corbett 0-2; J Forde 0-2; A Ryan 0-1.
CORK: A Nash; S O’Neill, S McDonnell, C O’Sullivan; S White, C Joyce, W Egan; D Kearney, L McLoughlin; C McCarthy, P O’Sullivan, C Lehane; S Moylan, L O’Farrell, P Horgan.
Subs: T Kenny (Kearney 60); M Walsh (McLoughlin 62); A Mannix (O’Farrell 66).
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, C O’Brien; D Maher, P Maher, B Maher; S McGrath, J Ryan; N McGrath, J O’Dwyer, P Maher; S Bourke, B O’Meara, S Callanan.
Subs: A Ryan (J Ryan 26); L Corbett (Callanan 32); J Forde (Patrick Maher 35); E Kelly (O’Meara 45); M Cahill (Stapleton 60).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).