Skim the surface of Saturday evening’s game in Thurles and it looks like a job so well done for Cork’s footballers.
Five points down early on, they fell behind by that same margin twice more before asserting control and pulling through to claim a fourth win in four attempts in Allianz League Division Three. It leaves them three points ahead in the table and odds on for promotion.
What’s not to like? Well, the ending, now that we ask. Two second-half Luke Connolly goals, the first from a penalty after Riain Quigley had pulled Mattie Taylor down and the second a superb low finish to the corner, had helped propel the visitors into the lead.
Then they stopped pedalling.
Ciaran Sheehan was shown a black card with six minutes to go as Cork attempted to cling on to a four-point lead and others could have followed him. That Ruairí Deane, for one, wasn’t sent the same route by referee Patrick Murphy was nothing shy of astonishing.
Cork pulled and dragged at opponents time and again in those last chapters.
They aren’t the first football side to protect a lead in that manner and they won’t be the last but that didn’t make it any less edifying. It was an unsatisfactory ending to a game that had produced some superb football by both sides, very little of which was of the lateral type seen so often these days.
Manager Ronan McCarthy wasn’t blind to the benefits of this latest win. Yet again Cork got to give some unfamiliar faces a stab at this level and there was the unadulterated joy in seeing Sean Powter power through the lines again. Some of their football was, as he said, “top-class” at times.
But his team stumbling over the line wasn’t part of the plan.
“I said to the players over the last two and a half years, you go out and you play a game and you win and you lose on any given day,” he explained. “You never know on any given day but you must go out and play with courage for 76 minutes.
“We should have been more courageous and managed the ball better in the final phases of the game. But to be fair to them we will take it on board and we will deal with it on Tuesday night with the video and we will get ourselves right for next week.”
Cork stuttered their way to a win against Tipp in Thurles 12 months ago as well but McCarthy is of the belief that his side are further on in their development now.
That those days should be behind them, even against an opponent that played some wonderful football at times.
Tipperary averaged just nine points, and no goals, per game across the first three rounds this year. They had that on the board within half an hour here despite the incessant rain and they will wonder exactly how they scored 21 points in all and still lost.
David Power gave runs to the youthful pair of Quigley and Sean O’Connor up front. The former was particularly impressive with two points scored from play, particularly so in a first-half dominated by the home team.
Only a Deane goal 22 minutes in kept Cork tugging at their shirt tails through that opening period and some of the Tipperary play was light years ahead of the football they had managed in edging Louth, drawing with Down and losing to Derry so far this season.
Jack Kennedy, Conor Sweeney and even goalkeeper Evan Comerford all impressed with deadball efforts but the highlight was probably a 16th minute score from Quigley that started with a composed clearance under pressure and involved some superb interplay through the field.
The disappointment for manager David Power is that a defence that had been so stingy up to this point should be opened up in the manner they were for three goals by a side that, like them, had huffed and puffed in finding the net of late.
“When you score 21 points [the loss] is hard to take but we got a lot of criticism after the Derry game where we only scored six points,” said Power. “I don’t think people actually realised how hard the conditions were up there.
“But this is only a development phase and that is all it is. We showed there we can play football against the best teams. I didn’t think we got the fair rub of the green off the referee. I thought there was some very very questionable decisions.
“But we have to look at the turnovers we gave away for the goals. But I’m very very proud of them. We have a template for going forward but it will take time and hopefully we will have a couple of more bodies to come back as well.”
C Sweeney (0-5, 0-4 frees); J Kennedy (0-4 frees); R Quigley, L Boland, S O’Brien and E Moloney (0-2 each); E Comerford (0-1 ‘45’); S O’Connor (0-1 free); Colman Kennedy and B Fox (both 0-1).
L Connolly (2-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark); R Deane (1-0); C O’Mahony (0-5, 0-2 frees); J O’Rourke (0-2); S Powter, M Taylor, C Sheehan and C Kiely (all 0-1).
E Comerford; A Campbell, J Meagher, T Fitzgerald; K Fahey, R Kiely, B Maher; S O’Brien, Colman Kennedy; E Moloney, J Kennedy, B Fox; R Quigley, C Sweeney, S O’Connor.
L Boland for C Kennedy (30), Fahey for K Fahey (47); J Lonergan for O’Connor and K O’Halloran for Quigley (both 58); J Niland for Moloney (66).
M Martin; S Powter, J Loughrey, P Ring; T Clancy, M Taylor, C Kiely; I Maguire, K O’Hanlon; J O’Rourke, S White, B Hartnett; R Deane, L Connolly, C O’Mahony.
C Sheehan for White (45); L O’Donovan for Kiely (50); C O’Callaghan for O’Mahony (57); P Walsh for Powter (61); E O’Driscoll for O’Hanlon (66).
P Murphy (Carlow).
The game in 60 seconds
Key moment: There were three of them. Cork's ability to sprinkle three goals through the evening was crucial to the end result. The first kept them within Tipp's orbit and the pair after the interval accelerated their recovery and gave them the lead which would never be handed back.
Talking point: That these are two county sides under-appreciated in their own counties is no news and the attendance of just 875 on the night was further evidence of that. Those who did turn up were treated to a fabulous game of competitive football.
Good day: Three goals and 34 points is a fair return for any game at any time, let alone one played in the middle of February underneath a weeping sky.
Bad day: The regularity with which Cork fouled a Tipperary player attempting to make progress up the field with the ball towards the end was depressing and proof again that this ploy is a scourge on the game at large.
Sidleine smarts: Neither side adopted anything like a defensive pose. Both played a fast, attacking brand of football that mixed foot and hand passing. There was precious little of the lateral play seen so often these days though Cork did turn to it as they protected their late lead.
Ref watch: Referee Patrick Murphy could and should have been more firm with Cork in those closing stages. Ruairi Deane somehow escaped with the concession of a free and no other sanction for one particularly egregious and cynical foul when pulling down a Tipp player in midfield.
Key man: Cathail O'Mahony landed four points from play on a very effective evening and Luke Connolly worked his way into the game after a rusty start to do some real damage from play and placed balls after the interval.
Next up: Tipperary travel to Longford next Sunday, Cork entertain Derry at home the same afternoon.