After contrasting campaigns in Division 2 where Cork, briefly, flirted with relegation, while Tipperary challenged for promotion, expectation lay with the home side heading into Saturday’s Munster SFC semi-final.
Their cause, too, was more pronounced, Tipperary being the only county made to play two provincial championship gams on successive weekends. And yet, it was Ronan McCarthy’s troops who led their hosts on a merry dance for most of this one-sided Munster semi.
After a cagey opening 22 minutes where both teams kicked three apiece and Cork ‘keeper Mark White pulled off two fine saves, Cork outscored their opponents by 1-8 to 0-1 over the next 22 minutes to put to bed any notion of a second Tipperary championship win over Cork in three years.
Colm O’Neill’s 31st-minute goal may have been the score which helped the Cork challenge off the runway, but it was Luke Connolly — one of three starters making their first appearance in red of 2018 — who consistently terrorised Liam Kearns’ defenders.
The 25-year old provided three of his team’s opening four points, all delivered off the right boot after rounding his man with consummate ease.
He also kicked Cork’s fifth, a goal chance blazed over following fine work by Kevin Flahive and Ruairi Deane.
On a side note, “truly magnificent,” was McCarthy’s summation of Deane’s performance. From first whistle to last, the Bantry half-forward hurtled up and down the pitch. Intelligent and purposeful running, at that.
Anyway, back to Luke. The Nemo Rangers talent, having benefited from Shane O’Connell misjudging the bounce, set-up Colm O’Neill for the contest’s sole major and after Mark Collins left the scoreboard reading 1-6 to 0-4 in their favour, two more from Connolly, one off the left and the other a close-range free converted with the right, sent the visitors back down the tunnel seven clear (1-8 to 0-4).
Having finished the half with six points, he added four more upon the change of ends.
Not bad for a man making only his fourth championship start.
“It is great to get out on the pitch and get that winning feeling back,” said Cork’s tormentor-in-chief. “The club final a few weeks ago was one to forget. It is an honour to wear the Cork jersey again. The lads had a mixed league campaign, but championship is what your graded on and this was a great start.”
Connolly’s Cork involvement under Ronan McCarthy amounts to no more than two months and yet, the picture he painted on Saturday is that of a resurgent camp.
“It is young, fresh, vibrant. There is a good buzz there. You could see in the first-half that we played some great football, which is what Cork should be doing, plain and simple. We have had a few years where we were up and down. That is what we are capable of and that is what we want to do.
“We were slow to get going, but the goal kicked us on. This is a massive confidence-booster.
“We have no fear going into a Munster final. Hopefully, it is Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”
Fellow Nemo man Paul Kerrigan, sidelined in recent weeks because of a finger injury, kicked two points when introduced in the final quarter. Valuable scores given Tipperary had landed five on the bounce — Liam McGrath responsible for three of these — to halve the margin from 10 to five.
No closer, though, would they come. Cork finished with six unanswered points, including one from the fit-again Brian Hurley.
When Tipperary overcame the Rebels in the league back in January, Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan contributed 1-4. Here, they managed just a single point between them.
Ian Maguire had the better of Steven O’Brien at midfield, while none of their half-forward line scored from play. Their unforced error count, meanwhile, was off the charts.
Tipperary selector Shane Stapleton reflected: “Management, coaches and players will all have to have a long look at ourselves.
“That wasn’t good enough. Nine points is not good enough with the ability and talent we have.”
For Cork, the task now is the same as it has been in recent years; to back up an encouraging performance and result with another.
L Connolly (0-10, 5 frees); M Collins (0-3); C O’Neill (1-0); P Kerrigan (0-2); S White, B Hurley (0-1 each).
L McGrath (0-5, 3 frees); P Austin, J Kennedy (0-1 free), L Boland, M Quinlivan (0-1 each).
M White; K Crowley, J O’Sullivan, K Flahive; S White, S Cronin, T Clancy; I Maguire, A Walsh; K O’Driscoll, M Collins, R Deane; J O’Rourke, C O’Neill, L Connolly.
B Hurley for O’Neill (47 mins, inj); R O’Toole for O’Driscoll (56); P Kelleher for A Walsh, P Kerrigan for O’Rourke (both 60); J Loughrey for S White (64); M Taylor for Clancy (68).
E Comerford; S O’Connell, A Campbell, R Kiely; J Feehan, J Meagher, B Maher; S O’Brien, L Casey; J Keane, J Kennedy, B Fox; C Sweeney, M Quinlivan, L McGrath.
P Austin for Feehan (HT); K Fahey for Kiely (46); L Boland for Casey (49); J Lonergan for Keane (67); K O’Halloran for Sweeney (67).
A Nolan (Wicklow).
Cork goalkeeper Mark White’s two saves to deny Michael Quinlivan and Liam Casey in the first-half. An early goal for Tipperary - when there was nothing to separate the teams - would have made life far more difficult for Cork than what materialised. The Cork ‘keeper, on what was his championship debut, can be most satisfied with his evening’s work.
The dire nature of the Tipperary display. This is the worst we’ve seen from a Tipperary side in a number of years. Liam Kearns’ charges managed just four first-half points, two from play. They went scoreless during the opening 15 minutes and closing 11 minutes of the second-half.
Brian Hurley. Two successive hamstring tears meant this was his first appearance in a Cork shirt since the Munster semi-final defeat to Tipperary on June 12, 2016. And he scored a point.
Take your pick from Tipperary’s big-name players who simply never got going.
Tipperary’s policing of Luke Connolly was inadequate. Evident from early on that Connolly was in devastating form and yet, the Tipperary management put no extra cover in front of him to curtail his influence.
Robbie Kiely hobbled off injured for Tipperary. For Cork, there is concern over a knee injury sustained by Colm O’Neill early in the second-half. Said Ronan McCarthy: “When I saw it first, I thought it was a hamstring. Then I thought it was his Achilles. It is a knee injury, we are a bit unsure. We’ll get him scanned.” Seán Powter missed the game because of a long-standing hamstring issue. He returns to full training next week.
Luke Connolly, obviously, is top of the class. His tally finished in double-digit territory, kicked points off both feet and was central to Colm O’Neill’s goal. The running and work-ethic of Ruairi Deane, Mark Collins, Ian Maguire and Sean White (first-half) was also important.
Anthony Nolan yellow-carded three Tipperary players (Jimmy Feehan, Liam Boland and Steven O’Brien). Jack Kennedy saw black in second-half stoppages.
Cork play either Clare or Kerry in the Munster football final on June 23 (7pm). Tipperary begin their qualifier campaign the same day.