The former Tipperary forward, who won a club All-Ireland with Nemo Rangers in 1994, believes Liam Kearns’ charges have a “free shot” at this summer’s championship whereas massive pressure rests on the shoulders of a maligned Cork team to produce a result at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Not since 1940 has a Cork team fallen to the Premier County in successive summers and Peadar Healy’s charges won’t be keen on bridging that 77-year gap tomorrow. Moreover, July 2 has long been circled on Leeside calendars as the afternoon when the locks are lifted on the redeveloped 45,000-capacity Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The plan was for a Cork v Kerry Munster football final. Recent Cork performances, though, don’t look favourably on such an outcome materialising.
“There’ll be pressure on the Cork players to stop the decline that is perceived to be happening, to get the grass growing in the other direction, to start progressing, and to get a bit of confidence going,” said Lambert, who played in five Munster finals between 1993 and 2002.
“Cork have more to lose so I expect they are going to come out and give everything to address the decline down there. I’d be very surprised if Cork lay down on this one.
“Cork are going to be more focused on their performance as a result of the Waterford game and the criticism they are getting from within the county. Everybody is kinda wondering where they are gone and people are half expecting it to click for them on Saturday, that they’ll put Tipperary to the sword and they’ll get back to where Cork have been. Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen.”
Lambert, like most observers, was scratching his head as to how the Rebels came so close to defeat in Fraher Field two weeks ago. He reckons their 1-12 to 1-11 escape didn’t do Tipperary any favours.
“Tipperary would have been in a better position had Cork hammered Waterford. It might have brushed over any problems that were there. If Cork felt they were caught last year, there’ll be no surprises this year,” he said.
The visitors are without 2016 All-Star-nominated goalkeeper Evan Comerford and have been hit with a spate of injuries, with Ciarán McDonald, Philip Austin, Ian Fahey, Willie Connors, and Jack Kennedy among those ruled out.
“They could have done without losing Evan. He’s been outstanding for them and is going to be a major loss. The goalkeeper coming in will want to show Liam Kearns that he is a serious option going forward. Tipp need to show leadership and drive on in the backline and midfield. Peter Acheson was there last year when they beat Cork. He’s no longer there,” said Lambert.
“Tipperary have progressed and are still making progress. They have lost players and yet they’ve still managed to win Division 3 off the back of a year where they got to a Munster final and an All-Ireland semi-final. If they don’t manage to beat Cork, they have still put themselves in a position where they will be playing a higher level of football next year.”
Meanwhile, Cork will be without Alan O’Connor for tomorrow’s game after he failed to have his one-match suspension overturned. The 32-year old received a straight red card during the win over Waterford for a high challenge on Brian Looby, a decision he appealed to the Central Hearings Committee on Wednesday night. The CHC upheld the initial one-match ban and with Aidan Walsh expected to miss out through injury, Ian Maguire and Ruairi Deane should get the nod at midfield. Brian O’Driscoll, who missed the Waterford game with a shoulder injury, is back in contention for a starting role.