Where their minors read 2011, where their U21s read 2015, so their seniors shall read 2016 and all the more satisfying and enriching was Tipperary’s latest football breakthrough given not a single soul saw this upset being sprung yesterday.
Not since 1944 have Tipperary ousted Cork in the football championship and while the date was fast approaching when a Tipperary team bridged that gap given the advances in their underage structures over the past decade and a half, it wasn’t expected to be Sunday, June 12.
No, not with Colin O’Riordan missing, Steven O’Brien missing, Seamus Kennedy missing, Paddy Codd missing, Barry Grogan missing, Jason Lonergan missing, Kevin Fahey missing and Liam Casey missing.
Indeed, in perfect summation of the general apathy towards the Tipperary seniors at present was the paltry crowd of 2,734, over two-thirds of which comprised of Cork supporters. Compare this with the 11,428 that attended the 2015 Munster semi-final meeting of Kerry and Tipperary at Thurles, a fixture played little over a month after the county’s U21 team had contested the All-Ireland decider.
One imagines there were more than a few Tipperary supporters, and, indeed, defected players who wished they were present for the first shock of Championship 2016.
“I hope they do and I hope they will come back,” was the sharp response offered by Liam Kearns when said thought was put to him after the game.
Their passage into a first Munster decider since 2002 looked safe and secure following a bizarre two-minute period during which Tipperary rocked Cork for 1-2 to move 3-13 to 1-10 in front.
Brian Fox, having instigated Tipperary’s two first-half goals, created and finished goal number three after intercepting an attempted short kick-out by Cork’s championship debutant goalkeeper Ryan Price on 61 minutes.
The subsequent kick-out also went awry with Fox again punishing to put nine between them. Tipperary, as they had done when moving 2-10 to 0-7 clear earlier in the second period, retreated in a bid to close up shop. The shutters, though, weren’t budging.
Subs Donncha O’Connor (free) and Peter Kelleher kicked a point a piece and it was game back on when Mark Collins’ shot took a wicked deflection and wound up in the Tipp net - Paul Kerrigan supplied their opening goal on 53 minutes. Four on the bounce from O’Connor (free), Goulding (0-2) and Kerrigan levelled matters on 69 minutes as memories of Cork’s 2014 smash and grab win came flooding back. Where Cork were confident on the ball and pressed with both intelligence and purpose; Tipperary were nervy, erratic. Take Bill Maher’s wayward pass which handed Goulding his second on 68 minutes. The home side were losing their grip on this fixture and it was obvious if Cork snuck in front, it was game over.
They didn’t. Or more precisely, they weren’t allowed. With the clock in the red, Michael Quinlivan flung possession to Shane Leahy underneath the corner of the Ryan Stand, the Tipperary sub offloading to the unmarked Ian Fahey close to goal. Ryan Price did well to deflect Fahey’s shot out for a ’45, the subsequent dead ball effort superbly converted by Kevin O’Halloran.
O’Halloran doubled their advantage on 73 minutes and Tipperary clung on in the dying seconds despite a late Cork chance which they defended with 14-men - Billy Hewitt was not replaced following his black card dismissal as the home outfit had used their full complement of subs. For Cork, the writing was on the wall by half-time. Despite playing with the benefit of a slight breeze, the hosts led 2-7 to 0-6.
Ruairi Deane’s introduction for the second period was a direct product of Cork’s failings at midfield, Peter Kelleher’s introduction at full-forward telling a similar story further up. The visitors lacked creativity going forward and were far too easily carved open at the back. Most noticeable, overall, was their collective flatness.
Tipperary’s opening goal arrived at the end of the first quarter, Brian Fox teeing up Conor Sweeney following a searing run down the left wing. Kearns’ charges could have been celebrating a second green flag by this juncture after Robbie Kiely was taken down by James Loughrey for a seventh- minute penalty. Peter Acheson assumed responsibility, but his tame effort was saved by Price.
Sweeney’s major put the underdogs 1-4 to 0-3 in front, with Cork eventually waking up to the fact that they had a battle on their hands. Paul Kerrigan, John O’Rourke and Mark Collins kicked fine scores, but too many chances went squandered. The Rebels finished the half with nine wides. They’d prove costly.
Costly also was management’s failure to man-mark Fox after his early bursts. Yet another run down the left wing was the catalyst for Michael Quinlivan’s 33rd minute goal.
The full-forward, who shaded his battle with Eoin Cadogan, kicked 1-2 approaching the interval and was one of the key figures during second-half stoppages in nudging the Premier County over the line. The 72-year wait was worth it.
K O’Halloran (0-7, 0-3 frees, 0-2 ‘45’s); M Quinlivan (1-3, 0-1 free); B Fox (1-1); C Sweeney (1-0); P Acheson (0-2); B Maher, C McDonald (0-1).
M Collins (1-1); D O’Connor (0-3 frees), P Kerrigan (0-3, 0-1 free); D Goulding (0-2 frees), C O’Neill (0-2 frees), C Dorman (0-2); P Kelleher, B Hurley, J O’Rourke (0-1 each).
R Price; J Loughrey, E Cadogan, C O’Driscoll; K O’Driscoll, B O’Driscoll, T Clancy; S Kiely, I Maguire; J O’Rourke, C Dorman, M Collins; C O’Neill, B Hurley, P Kerrigan.
R Deane for Kiely, P Kelleher for Hurley (both HT); S White for Deane (bc, 42); S Powter for Dorman (48); D O’Connor for O’Neill (53); D Goulding for O’Rourke (62).
E Comerford; C McDonald, C O’Shaughnessy, A Campbell; B Maher, R Kiely, J Feehan; P Acheson, G Hannigan; P Austin, K O’Halloran, B Fox; J Keane, M Quinlivan, C Sweeney.
S Leahy for Keane (bc, 34); M Dunne for Kiely (54); I Fahey for Austin (60); A Moloney for Sweeney (67); S O’Connor for B Maher (69); B Hewitt for Fahey (bc, 72).
P Neilan (Roscommon).