Fair enough, Tipperary opting for experience (10 of the team started last year’s Munster semi-final against the same opposition), allied with the return of Evan Comerford and Steven O’Brien, contrasting sharply with Cork’s experimental outfit which contained six debutants.
Still, it must be remembered this was the visitors’ first league game at a level higher than Division 3 since 2010. Tipperary inflicting defeat on Cork in a competitive fixture is by no means a common occurrence - there was even the suggestion afterwards this was the county’s first league win over the Rebels - and yet no air of upset greeted the final whistle.
“Cork were favourites, we were told,” Kearns began, “In fairness to Cork, they are missing the Nemo guys and Aidan Walsh. We were at full strength so the onus was on us to go and win the match. We came here expecting a result. If Cork did win, we were in big trouble.”
Trouble is exactly where they found themselves midway through the first-half. Having opened promisingly to move 0-4 to 0-1 in front with the wind at their backs, Sean White, Stephen Sherlock (free), Sean Powter, John O’Rourke and Mark Collins (0-2) reeled off six unanswered points to propel the hosts three clear.
Kearns’ charges were struggling under their own restart and wound up losing eight of their 14 kick-outs in the opening period. They did succeed in paring the margin back to the minimum, 0-9 to 0-8, approaching the call for half-time and were let off the hook when ‘keeper Evan Comerford repelled a Stephen Sherlock penalty in injury-time.
Cork, not for the first time, lost their way in the second period. From a position of being 0-11 to 0-8 ahead, they trailed 2-13 to 0-12 come the 53rd minute. Liam McGrath pounced for Tipperary’s opening major after the Rebel rearguard failed to clear their lines following a Conor Sweeney shot which shook the crossbar.
The second emanated from an intercepted Cillian O’Hanlon pass, Michael Quinlivan punishing with a sweet curling effort off the right.
Mindful of the fact that the calendar has yet to turn the page for February, it is far too early to be throwing old criticisms at Cork. Irrespective, conceding 2-4 without reply doesn’t cut the mustard.
“A team will have a period of dominance, but you have to limit and restrict what they score. And we didn’t,” manager Ronan McCarthy reflected.
“A big thing is holding onto the ball,” added Ian Maguire. “We gave it away cheaply and Tipperary put us to the sword. You take lessons with every game, we learned a harsh one there.”
Either side of Tipperary’s spell of supremacy, the hosts failed to capitalise on green flag openings; Ian Maguire’s floated pass to the onrushing Mark Collins was touched away by the returning Steven O’Brien, while Sherlock tipped a Colm O’Neill pass onto the post. The latter did eventually pull one back. Two points, 2-13 to 1-14, was as close as they’d come of their opponents down the home stretch.
Cork had two debutants in the full-back line, Sam Ryan and Michael McSweeney, and while the pair spoiled a number of probing deliveries into Quinlivan and company, the goal chances were far too plentiful. 2011 All-Ireland minor winning football captain Liam McGrath kicked his second on 68 minutes to wrap up the result. “Liam shot the lights out in an A v B game last weekend. That is how he got his place. I am delighted he brought it onto the pitch today. 2-5 was great clipping,” Kearns remarked of his star pupil.
For Cork, maximum points from Newry is now a must. Lose there and they can wave goodbye to promotion.
“[This result] puts an added pressure on the game next weekend. We can’t afford another slip. If you do, to win five games in-a-row to get 10 points to qualify is a difficult task,” McCarthy said.
“While the team were positive in the way they played, there is a lot more in them. We will get it out of them as we go along. We are confident that results will come eventually.”
L McGrath (2-5, 0-2 frees); M Quinlivan (1-2, 0-1 ‘45); J Kennedy (0-3, 2 frees), C Sweeney (0-3, 1 free); S O’Brien, L Boland, B Fox (0-1 each).
S Sherlock (0-5, 3 frees), M Collins (0-5 1 free); C O’Neill (1-1); S White (0-2); S Powter, R Deane, J O’Rourke (0-1 each).
E Comerford; S O’Connell, A Campbell, E Moloney; J Feehan, R Kiely, B Maher; S O’Brien, J Kennedy; L Boland, J Keane, B Fox; M Quinlivan, C Sweeney, L McGrath.
L Casey for Boland (HT); J Meagher for Feehan (43); K Fahey for Kiely (62); C O’Shaughnessy for O’Connell, B Martin for L McGrath (both 70); G Hannigan for O’Brien (73).
M White; S Ryan, J O’Sullivan, M McSweeney; K Flahive, K Crowley, B O’Driscoll; I Maguire, D O’Callaghan; S White, S Powter, R Deane; J O’Rourke, M Collins, S Sherlock.
C O’Neill for Powter (48 mins, inj); C O’Hanlon for O’Callaghan (50); M Hurley for O’Rourke (53); T Clancy for B O’Driscoll (58); K O’Driscoll for S White (64); C Dorman for Maguire (66, inj).
P O’Sullivan (Kerry).