Some will argue this affair lacked bite and intensity; that much of what transpired wouldn’t be permitted in the business end of the All-Ireland championship. But if this is to be the last Munster opening knockout game, then it will be remembered fondly for its quality as much as its entertainment. And try telling the scoreboard operator that this wasn’t manic. In the first 20 minutes, they had reason to change the score on 19 occasions.
All week it seemed neutrals and Cork sympathisers were hoping more than anticipating a performance from the men in red. At times, it felt critiques and criticisms of their showings in recent years were pep talks in disguise. To keep Tipperary honest seemed the height of expectation outside the camp. What they provided perhaps even surprised their diehards, so stunning it was in conviction.
Kieran Kingston will surely take most pleasure in how well his players dove-tailed. Luke Meade looked to the manor born in the first half before his influence dipped in the second, something for which he can be easily forgiven on his senior championship debut. When Conor Lehane was struggling to find his range, it was Meade and fellow greenhorn Shane Kingston who were showing the way. All the while, Pa Horgan, albeit quiet for periods, was chipping in with scores, defying the argument that he needed frees to boost his confidence. Seamus Harnedy may not have been free-scoring but he was a headache for James Barry. Alan Cadogan was Alan Cadogan for the first half before his influence petered out (it’s understood he had been sick in the lead-up).
Lehane took his time but came good and powered into the second half with four points from play. Mark Coleman was arguably the most consistent Cork player: like his team-mates he wasn’t without a lost battle or two but he finished the better of his duel with Dan McCormack. The same could not be said for Mark Ellis whose direct opponent Michael Breen managed six points although it would be considered a split decision as Ellis made amends with distribution and carrying the can for others.
If Tipperary answered those critics who questioned their ability to win tight affairs against Galway last August, that query will raise its head now as this result is digested over the next six weeks before their first-round qualifier. Unlike last year when Cork adopted the deepest of sweepers to save their blushes as much as goals, Tipperary were lulled by the invitation of a slugging match early on but ultimately discovered they couldn’t land enough punches.
They did go ahead for the first time in the second half when from a long Darren Gleeson restart Seamus Callanan found John McGrath with a glorious pass in the 56th minute and last year’s breakout star did the rest. But Cork’s response was almost instantaneous when Conor Lehane sent over a point from the right wing. Shane Kingston split the posts in the following minute and Cork were back ahead. Tipperary did sneak into the lead once more when they managed a brace of points via substitute Niall O’Meara and Brendan Maher but Lehane tied up the game for a remarkable 16th minute in the 65th minute. He followed that with a 65 and then came the killer goal, replacement Michael Cahalane impressively anticipating a Darragh Fitzgibbon ball forward and running around the Tipperary cover to beat Gleeson.
Tipperary attempted to rally with scores from McCormack and Breen, his sixth point, but they were cancelled out by Luke O’Farrell and Harnedy efforts and the final whistle was greeted by a red avalanche onto the Thurles field from the 30,013 crowd in attendance.
Cork were two points up after three minutes although that was as much daylight as they put between themselves and Tipperary for the entire half. Tipp enjoyed the same advantage after a John O’Dwyer sideline cut sailed over the bar in the 20th minute but Cork were back on level terms three minutes later.
Tipperary’s first two points were goal chances but Cork were otherwise composed until John McGrath looked to have been held after O’Dwyer hit the post in the 23rd minute. With the teams level for a 12th time, Anthony Nash saved magnificently from Callanan before half-time. The ball was transferred quickly up the field, only for Harnedy to strike at the side-netting.
Harnedy had no second chance but Kingston did in the 43rd minute when, after Harnedy had ran hard along the deadball line, he was initially hooked by Ronan Maher but his second attempt at a ground shot foiled Gleeson. Tipperary eventually breached Nash’s line 13 minutes later but Cork stood resolute.
“When they got the goal, I saw it as just a challenge, I was like ‘right here we go’,” reviewed captain Stephen McDonnell. “This was a real test to us now you know I didn’t see it as ‘oh Jesus, we are going to get beaten here’. It wasn’t like that and I think the whole team was like that. We didn’t say, “Oh no, we are going to get beaten here’. We said, ‘Here we go now, this is a challenge — let’s prove what we can do’. That’s what it is like that’s the difference of mindset that we have now.”
S. Callanan (4 frees); M. Breen (0-6 each); J. McGrath (1-2); D. McCormack (0-3); John O’Dwyer (1 sideline), N. McGrath, B. Maher (0-2 each); S. Curran, Pádraic Maher, N. O’Meara (0-1 each).
C. Lehane (0-10, 4 frees, 1 65); S. Kingston (1-4); P. Horgan (0-4); M. Cahalane (1-0); L. Meade, A. Cadogan (0-3 each); S. Harnedy (0-2); L. O’Farrell (0-1).
D. Gleeson 6; J. O’Keeffe 6, J. Barry 6, C. Barrett 7; S. Kennedy 5, R. Maher 7, Pádraic Maher (c) 7; B. Maher 7, S. Curran 5; D. McCormack 6, M. Breen 8, N. McGrath 7; John O’Dwyer 6, S. Callanan 7, J. McGrath 7.
N. O’Meara 6 for S. Curran (51); Joe O’Dwyer 6 for S. Kennedy (58); A. Flynn 6 for C. Barrett (inj 64).
A. Nash (c) 7; C. Spillane 7, D. Cahalane 7, S. McDonnell 6; C. Joyce 7, M. Ellis 7, M. Coleman 9; B. Cooper 7, D. Fitzgibbon 6; L. Meade 7, C. Lehane 8, S. Kingston 8; P. Horgan 7, S. Harnedy 6, A. Cadogan 6.
L. O’Farrell 6 for A. Cadogan (58); M. Cahalane 7 for L. Meade (66); L McLoughlin for D Fitzgibbon (70).
J. Owens (Wexford).