Running out onto the pitch, the Tipperary keeper spanked a ball high towards the Killinan End into the middle of the opposition’s warm-up, where it almost hit substitute goalkeeper Patrick Collins to the disgruntlement of some Cork officials.
A statement of intent? Hardly. But where Tipperary kept with tradition and dashed out of their dressing room, Cork untypically strolled.
If anybody knew what was to unfold thereafter, they may have considered the stark difference in their introductions ominous.
Ditto captain Seamus Harnedy’s decision to play against the wind in the first half.
Cork were schooled here by a Tipperary team who seemed almost shocked by how easy they had it. The hosts weren’t excellent — the weather conditions didn’t help and Cork at least never looked like conceding a goal – but then they didn’t have to be to see off such limp opposition that failed in the most basic skills.
Then there was the system malfunction. All too obvious at this stage for the Cork contingent in the 29,114 crowd. Management may have changed but it’s now 10 months since they first introduced the sweeper system for their first qualifier against Wexford.
It worked then as it did against Clare but their incompatibility with it was shown up in going down to Galway and conceding 53 scoring chances.
Yesterday is the only one of their five defeats in Thurles these last 12 months that hasn’t come by way of a double-digit margin. But combined with the chastening loss to Galway and a forgettable league loss to Tipperary this year, the statistics make for ugly reading – a concession of 4-77 and a total deficit of 33 points.
Cork have been long enough trying to imitate Waterford now to know what playing a sweeper system entails.
William Egan may have protected the henhouse but he was too deep and virtually nullified when Tipperary spread balls to the corners where they were in fine shooting form in the first half.
Going into this clash, much had been made of how Tipperary would react to Cork’s extra man. It allowed them to do something similar at the back only their spare player, a role shared among the half-backs, was further up the field and more effective on the game. The number of times the likes of the Maher brothers were able to mop up possesion and deliver unforced ball into the full-forward line in the opening period should give the Cork management team nightmares.
Although Michael Ryan wasn’t entirely happy with some of the distribution.
“We hit some long ball that was poorly directed. It seemed to be hit right into space where we had no threat so therefore it was coming back up to us just as quick. So we’ve loads to work on.”
If Cork were going to tighten up, the question was how much was going to be taken from their attacking play to compensate. Seamus Harnedy and Pa Horgan were peripheral figures throughout, the latter replaced shortly after he took the unusual decision to go for goal with a 51st minute free when a point would have cut the gap to six points and given Cork their fifth score on the bounce.
Their first half total of five points in contrast to Tipperary’s 14 was abysmally low but other than Alan Cadogan Cork were losing all the individual battles. Three majestic points close to the Ryan Stand sideline in two minutes from Seamus Callanan, John McGrath and John O’Dwyer epitomised the difference between the sides. Callanan’s score was possibly the best: shouldering Damien Cahalane off the ball he then proceeded to mask a cross-field ball into a point.
When Cork were struggling to string together the simplest of hand-passes, Noel McGrath’s 29th minute point, completed with next to nothing of a back-swing, further highlighted the skill chasm between the sides in coping with the rain.
Tipperary went 11 points up four minutes into the second half before Cork mounted a mini comeback with four points on the trot. Discipline cost them, though, when Tipperary fired back with three placed balls (two of them frees), the first of them ending a 17-minute barren spell.
The game petered out to its inevitable conclusion, Cork at least drawing the second half although Tipperary in that time faced into the worst of the game’s weather. Still, keeping a team to 13 points was an achievement for the home side. “It was a very difficult day for forwards to operate,” reasoned Ryan. “Even a slow back like myself could survive on a day like that. Okay, I jest! But it was easier for the backs today. And it just made your use of the ball far more important. You just had to be careful with what you did. We’d be quite satisfied. We were okay for long periods but not all of the time.”
If that’s how Ryan feels, imagine what’s on Kieran Kingston’s mind this morning?
Unprintable, probably. Like the initial reaction to Gleeson’s pre-match missile.
S. Callanan (0-8, 4 frees); J. O’Dwyer (0-7, 2 frees, 1 65); N. McGrath (0-2); Pádraic Maher, B. Maher, J. McGrath, J. Forde, K. Bergin (0-1 each).
A. Cadogan (0-4); P. Horgan (0-3, frees); C. Lehane (0-2, 1 free); B. Lawton, C. Murphy, S. Harnedy, L. O’Farrell (0-1 each).
D. Gleeson; C. Barrett, J. Barry, M. Cahill; S. Kennedy, R. Maher, Pádraic Maher; B. Maher (c), M. Breen; S. Curran, D. McCormack, N. McGrath; J. O’Dwyer, S. Callanan, J. McGrath.
J. Forde for N. McGrath (53); Patrick Maher for S. Curran (56); N. O’Meara for J. O’Dwyer, K. Bergin for M. Breen (both 64).
A. Nash; D. Cahalane, M. Ellis, C. O’Sullivan; L. McLoughlin, C. Joyce, C. Murphy; D. Kearney, W. Egan; B. Cooper, C. Lehane, B. Lawton; A. Cadogan, S. Harnedy (c), P. Horgan.
A. Walsh for D. Kearney (32); K. Burke for C. O’Sullivan (41); L. O’Farrell for P. Horgan (54); J. Cronin for B. Cooper (59);
B Kelly (Westmeath)