While Tipperary manager John McNamara may empathise with his Cork and Kerry counterparts over any concerns the pair harbour regarding the Munster MFC format, it is a structure very much to McNamara and Tipperary’s liking.
This evening in Thurles (7pm), Cork and Tipperary meet in the Munster minor football semi-final. The penultimate round clash represents Tipperary’s fifth game of the provincial campaign, whereas it is only Cork’s second.
The current format - which sees Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford grouped together in a mini round-robin before the top team from this quartet moves onto a semi-final phase involving Cork and Kerry - was drawn up for two reasons in late 2018.
The first was to give more competitive games to the traditionally weaker counties in the province. The second was to afford Cork and Kerry a second chance at the semi-final stage, a modification no doubt influenced by the criticism that followed Cork’s one-point defeat to Kerry in the 2018 Munster semi-final as it was felt the then structure was redundant and flawed.
But the new system, which was paused during Covid, hasn’t won over all sides.
Kerry minor boss James Costello did not mince his words when giving his view on a Munster championship that began on April 14 but did not see Cork and Kerry join until May 12.
“Kerry and Cork being guaranteed two games, from a developmental point of view I don’t think it is serving us as well as it could. We are at a disadvantage,” said Costello, who referenced the all-encompassing round-robin formats in place in other provinces.
For McNamara and his young Tipperary charges, the four games played - and four wins recorded - have been invaluable in ticking the boxes of development, confidence building, and forging a winning mentality.
“This is the format Munster Council saw fit to go with and we are taking advantage of it,” said the Tipperary boss.
“Sometimes, it is taking from Peter to pay Paul. Ourselves and Limerick have benefited this season in terms of getting four games, Cork and Kerry maybe not. Historically, though, we were always trying to fight our way up to meet their standard and I hope that something like this set-up might give us a small little advantage in doing that.”
The home side is chasing Tipperary's first Munster minor final appearance since 2015 and a first win over Cork in a knockout game at this grade since 2013. And their opponents would certainly appear vulnerable after being whacked 1-16 to 0-5 by Kerry last week.
“If you want to be neutral on it, the advantage is with Tipperary, in the sense of four wins on the bounce, there is a lot of confidence, we are playing reasonably well, and we are fairly assured of our squad. Cork looked somewhat nervous playing Kerry, but obviously anybody going down to Tralee, it is always going to be a tough task.
“That might be a situation where we think we can take advantage, but we are also very aware that Cork are on the bounce now. Cork are going to want to put in a performance. They won't be in any fear of coming up to play us,” McNamara continued.
The Cork team contains four changes from the side hammered by Kerry. Corner-back Mark O’Sullivan, half-back Darragh O’Donovan, and centre-forward Ed Myers, all of whom were used off the bench at Austin Stack Park, are promoted to the starting team. Also drafted into the starting line-up is Colm Geary at midfield. The quartet to make way are Shane O’Connell, James Burke, Darragh Gough, and Aaron O’Sullivan.
The Tipperary team is unchanged from the side that overcame Limerick in the Phase 1 decider two weeks ago.
J Woods (Valley Rovers); M O’Sullivan (Bantry), C Molloy (Nemo Rangers), T O’Brien (Nemo Rangers); D O’Donovan (Bishopstown), G Daly (Mallow), A Cullinane (Clonakilty); C Geary (Kilshannig), C Gillespie (Aghabullogue); M Kelleher (Mallow), E Myers (Naomh Abán), A O’Connell (Kilshannig); B Hayes (Nemo Rangers), G Kearney (Kinsale), O O’Donovan (Ibane Gaels).
R McGrath (Galtee Rovers); A McSherry (Clonmel Commercials), C Byrne (Golden Kilfeacle), J Bergin (JK Brackens); E O’Connell (Loughmore-Castleiney), C King (Ballina), T Charles (Clonmel Commercials); J Higgins (Clonmel Commercials), P O’Keeffe (Moyle Rovers); C English (Ballyporeen), T O’Connor (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), B Carey (Ballylooby Castlegrace); C Grogan (Galtee Rovers), D Hogan (St Patricks), F Fitzgerald (Killenaule).