Just as Cork stood ready to breast the tape, a late, late lunge for the line saw Tipperary snatch the verdict in this absorbing Munster U20 final.
The trapdoor may not have been in operation yesterday evening as both counties were already guaranteed an All-Ireland semi-final outing, but that was hard to tell from the manner in which both sides threw the kitchen sink, cooker, and tumble dryer at one another in the frenetic closing minutes.
In the end, it was Tipperary corner-back Craig Morgan who climbed the steps of the Ryan Stand to collect the silverware, but no more than was the case last year, there is every chance these will meet again in the All-Ireland final.
The decisive strike of this provincial decider appeared to have arrived 70 seconds from the end of the regulation hour as Cork sub Evan Sheehan first-timed to the net after fellow second-half replacement Simon Kennefick had done brilliantly to dispossess Bryan O’Mara.
Cork’s second goal handed them a 2-16 to 2-14 lead and there was still two between them three minutes into injury-time as Brian Turnbull cancelled out a Darragh Woods minor.
But in one last roll of the dice, the clock reading 63 and a half minutes, Tipperary angled a long delivery in the direction of Jake Morris. Having ended up on the ground during the previous ball into him, the Tipperary senior was out in front on this occasion, gathered possession, and drilled a low shot past Cork ‘keeper Ger Collins to send the home supporters in the crowd of 9,117 into a state of wild delirium.
Referee Thomas Walsh afforded Cork an opportunity to locate an equaliser, but Daire Connery’s shot from halfway was off-target, his third wide of the closing stages.
The result was incredibly hard on Cork and had this been a knockout fixture, it would have taken Denis Ring and his players a fair while to get over this one. Thankfully, from their perspective, they have an opportunity to relaunch their summer on the August Bank Holiday weekend when lining up against DJ Carey’s Kilkenny.
It was the visitors to Thurles who had made the brighter second-half start, points from the somewhat subdued Brian Turnbull, Sean Twomey, and Hanifin (free) sending Ring’s side 1-13 to 2-7 clear.
Although the winners failed to score in the 10 minutes after the restart, five unanswered points thereafter swept the Premier lads into a two-point lead. The pick of the bunch was a Bryan O’Mara on-the-run effort from outside the 65-metre line. Morris and man of the match Conor Bowe were also on the mark during this run of scores, both players, at different times in the game, giving awful grief to the opposition defence.
The sides had been level when returning back down the tunnel at the break, Tipperary wiping out a five-point Cork lead when hitting 1-3 without reply approaching the interval. The key score in this burst was, of course, the green flag, Tipperary’s second of the evening.
Out of nothing, Kian O’Kelly, introduced 20 minutes in for Joe Fogarty, weaved his way in and around three red shirts before flicking the sliotar over the head of the onrushing Collins. The Cork rearguard may have been taken for three goals but there were fine defensive performances from James Keating and Ger Millerick.
O’Kelly’s fine individual goal nudged the Premier youngsters back in front for the first time since the 13th minute, this early lead built from a fourth-minute goal.
Billy Seymour, though initially blocked by Eoin Roche, retrieved possession, offloaded to Bowe and he found the net for his third goal of this championship.
Cork eventually found their rhythm and would outscore Tipp by 1-6 to 0-2 between the 13th and 22nd minute. Lighting the fuse on this period of dominance was Sean Twomey’s 13th-minute goal, the Courcey Rovers half-forward catching a Shane O’Regan sideline before charging past his man and beating Aaron Browne with a rocket. Three points followed in as many minutes from Ryan Walsh, Twomey, and Hanifin.
The visitors would twice hold a five-point lead, but were time and again reeled in by their opponents.
Morris’ late, late goal decided proceedings and when Liam Cahill and his management reflect on this game, they’ll quickly realise that more green flags could have been mined. Billy Seymour fumbled possession with an early second-half chance, the same player later denied by a Sean O’Leary Hayes block.
On this occasion, they were not left to rue those chances.
C Bowe (1-4); J Morris (1-3, 0-2 frees); K O’Kelly (1-0); A Ormond (0-2); C Connolly, J Cahill, G O’Connor, B Seymour, B O’Mara, D Woods (0-1 each).
S Twomey (1-2); C Hanifin (0-4, 0-3 frees); E Sheehan (1-0); S O’Regan (0-3); D Connery (0-1 free), B Turnbull (0-2); E Roche, P Power, T O’Connell, R Walsh (0-1 each).
A Browne (Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams); C McCarthy (Nenagh Éire Óg), E Connolly (Cashel King Cormacs), C Morgan (Kilruane MacDonaghs); M Purcell (Thurles Sarsfields), P Cadell (JK Brackens), B O’Mara (Holycross-Ballycahill); C Connolly (Loughmore-Castleiney), J Cahill (Kilruane MacDonaghs); J Fogarty (Moneygall), J Morris (Nenagh Éire Óg), G O’Connor (Moyne-Templetuohy); B Seymour (Kiladanagn), A Ormond (JK Brackens), C Bowe (Moyne-Templetuohy).
K O’Kelly (Kilruane MacDonaghs) for Fogarty (20 mins); N Heffernan (Golden-Kilfeacle) for Purcell (30); J Ryan (Arravale Rovers) for Seymour (44); D Woods (Holycross-Ballycahill) for O’Kelly (52); R McCormack (Borris-Ileigh) for Ormond (64).
G Collins (Ballinhassig); C O’Callaghan (Dromtarrife), J Keating (Kildorrery), E Roche (Bride Rovers); R Downey (Glen Rovers), G Millerick (Fr O’Neills), S O’Leary Hayes (Midleton); D Connery (Na Piarsaigh), R Walsh (Kanturk); T O’Connell (Midleton), C Hanifin (Na Piarsaigh), S Twomey (Courcey Rovers); L O’Shea (Lisgoold), S O’Regan (Watergrasshill), B Turnbull (Douglas).
S Kennefick (Glen Rovers) for O’Shea (31); E Sheehan for O’Regan (47, inj); P Power for Downey (50); B Murphy (Castlelyons) for Hanifin (65).
T Walsh (Waterford).