A long day’s journey into night on Saturday, with Cork and Tipperary serving up an entertaining tussle that felt for a while as though it might never end.
The 9,812 on hand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh saw a game that was still up for grabs almost quarter of an hour into injury time, with the two sides sharing 52 scores between them.
Cork needed a win more than the visiting All-Ireland champions, and they just about deserved that win, based on the evidence. They hit two goals to Tipperary’s one, and as Tipp boss Liam Sheedy said afterwards, the home side’s first-half tally of 2-13 was a good platform for victory.
Were they also marginally more urgent than their opponents? Perhaps, but Tipperary had too much quality not to ask probing questions: they came knocking on the door late on, and Cork needed ‘keeper Patrick Collins to be vigilant in order to get over the line.
From the very start, though, the home side were far sharper — and more clinical — than they’d been last week against Waterford. Tipperary stayed on their tails until the tenth minute, when Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan combined to place Robbie O’Flynn for a fine goal — 1-4 to 0-5.
Jason Forde and John McGrath were among the sharpshooters helping Tipp to regain parity later on in the half, and the sides swapped points as the break approached: Padraic Maher’s fine long-range strike put Tipp on level terms in injury time but Darragh Fitzgibbon hit an even better score to restore Cork’s lead. O’Flynn hustled through and was fouled for a penalty which Patrick Horgan buried, and Cork had jumped out to a 2-13 to 0-15 half-time lead.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Cian Darcy and Mark Kehoe among those helping Tipp cut the Cork lead. The home side were relying on Horgan’s frees to keep their noses ahead, though his first from open play made it 2-21 to 0-24 entering the last quarter.
Tipperary weren’t done: John McGrath blazed over when a goal was on the cards but Fitzgibbon responded by stretching Cork’s lead to four points. On 66 minutes Kehoe won a penalty after a terrific Collins save from Niall O’Meara, with Brian Hogan jogging the length of the field to bury it in the net.
Seamus Harnedy added a Cork point but the game then became disjointed: a collision left John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer needing lengthy treatment before he was stretchered off, and the proceedings came to an end with 83 minutes on the clock, Cork holding on for the win.
Sheedy took the positives from the game: “In fairness, I think Cork had a lot of wides, they had the better of it in the first half, coming up to half time we were level but they got 1-1, so that four points . . . obviously, when you lose a match by two that was critical.
“In the second half we were very spirited and that’s probably what pleases me most tonight, in the second half we never stopped trying.
“Cork looked to pull away from time from time to time and in fairness to Patrick Collins we got a few chances near the end, they were half chances, but they could have ended up in the back of the net and we could have had a different result.”
In the red and white corner Kieran Kingston was understandably happier: “Of course we’re delighted with the win, but I think mostly we’re very happy with the performance and the effort that our lads put in there. There was great honesty to it.
“There was great attitude to their play and that’s something that we needed to bring. We were welcoming the All-Ireland champions to Cork, a serious team, as every team is in this league, it is hugely hugely competitive. Of course we’re delighted with the win on the back of that performance.”
Kingston added that he was also pleased with the way his side had adapted to losing wing-forward Aidan Walsh and centre-back Tim O’Mahony to injury in the first half: “We’d rested a few students, as everybody knew, and we didn’t anticipate that we’d have to bring them in as early as we did. I was delighted the way the lads adjusted to that, the change was seamless and I was very happy with that.”
As well he might. Cork took a shelling about their application last week but Saturday evening was a better outing for Kingston’s charges across a range of associated metrics: their energy was better up front as they pressured opposition defenders, and their adaptability in the face of those enforced changes was another plus.
Performances from Robert Downey, Patrick Collins and Alan Cadogan were also big positives for Cork.
In the blue and gold corner the gradual reintegration process continues, with Seamus Callanan and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer both returning to the fray, even if the latter’s evening ended with a stretcher, though thankfully Sheedy had good news of Bubbles’ recovery at the final whistle.
John McGrath built on last week’s performance with more of that meandering, drifting movement, while another plus was Paddy Cadell’s efficiency before a back injury flared up early on; likewise Mark Kehoe’s scoring rate from his post at wing-forward.
Tipperary have Galway next and despite his stated focus on rooting out a couple of summer options, Sheedy will be keen to put a mark in win column.
The Tipp boss acknowledged that his side might have been leggy on Saturday after hard training but he’ll have noted the goal chances they left after them at the City End as well.
From a Cork perspective the positives include that reorganising the side mid-match, but the management will have noticed the issues caused by Seamus Callanan’s movement late on, for instance.
Similar lessons, then. More done, more to do.
Scorers for Cork: P. Horgan (7 frees)(1-9); R. O’Flynn (1-3); A. Cadogan (0-3); D. Fitzgibbon, S. Harnedy (0-2 each); A. Walsh, L. Meade, S. Harnedy, D. Cahalane, M. Coleman (0-1).
Scorers for Tipperary: J. Forde (3 frees), M. Kehoe, J. McGrath (0-4 each); B. Hogan (1-0, pen); P. Maher (0-3); C. Darcy, P. Cadell, J. Morris (0-2 each); A. Flynn, J. Cahill R. Maher (free), N. O’Meara, (0-1 each).
CORK: P. Collins, C. Spillane, R. Downey, S. O’Donoghue, C. O’Leary, T. O’Mahony, D. Cahalane, B. Cooper, L. Meade, R. O’Flynn, S. Harnedy, A. Walsh, A. Cadogan, D. Dalton, P. Horgan (c).
Subs: D. Fitzgibbon for Walsh (inj, 22); M. Coleman for O’Mahony (inj, 25); C. Lehane for Dalton (45); S. Kingston for Meade (60)
TIPPERARY: B. Hogan, Joe O’Dwyer, R. Maher, S. O’Brien, S. Kennedy, P. Maher, A. Flynn, P. Cadell, W. Connors, M. Kehoe, J. McGrath, M. Breen, J. Morris, J. Forde (c), J. Morris, C. Darcy.
Subs: J. Cahill for Cadell (inj, 25); N. O’Meara for Breen (32); S. Callanan for Darcy (inj, 46); B. O’Meara for Kennedy (52); John O’Dwyer for Forde (66); P. Flynn for John O’Dwyer (inj, 70).
Referee: J. Owens (Wexford)
The game in 60 seconds
IT MATTERED: Cork’s injury time burst at the end of the first half: the sides were level as the clock went into the red but the home side managed 1-1 before the break, with Horgan’s penalty helping them to a 2-13 to 0-15 half-time lead.
CAN’T IGNORE: Chris O’Leary blocking a Jason Forde free in the second half by standing with his hurley straight up; it just about beat out the sight of hundreds of spectators walking along the Blackrock End terrace into the North Stand in the first half.
SIDELINE SMARTS: Credit to Cork on this score - losing Tim O’Mahony and Aidan Walsh in the first half meant Kieran Kingston and his management had to improvise, pulling Bill Cooper to centre-back and fielding Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon at midfield.
MAIN MAN: Robbie O’Flynn ended the game with 1-3 and he also won Cork’s injury-time penalty. His hard running was a key part of the home side’s win. Patrick Horgan ended with 1-9 and carried the fight to Tipperary in the second half: between the two of them.
PHYSIO ROOM: Liam Sheedy had good news on John O’Dwyer, stretchered off late on: “He’s good, he's awake he got a bit of a shot in the chin, it was a fairly tough tackle - obviously completely accidental, they were both going for the ball in an aerial battle.
“We were quite worried at the time but he can feel all his limbs, he’s probably a bit concussed, but nothing more than that. He’ll get a full checkup but hopefully nothing more than that.”
Paddy Cadell was substituted as a precaution with a “niggly back” added Sheedy.
Kieran Kingston said Aidan Walsh (quad) and Tim O’Mahony (ankle), both substituted during the game, would both have to be assessed.
MAN IN BLACK: James Owens of Wexford handled the game well.
WHAT’S NEXT: No league games next weekend, but the weekend after Tipperary travel to Galway and Cork visit Westmeath.