RECENT meetings against Tipperary in the U21 grade have been painful experiences for Cork with extra-time defeats in the last two years but the memories of those clashes were erased courtesy of a powerful winning performance in last night’s Bord Gáis Energy Munster U21HC semi-final in Semple Stadium.
This match had assumed extra significance given Cork’s hurling travails at other levels this season and the U21 team delivered a timely success. The latest offering maintained the theme of pulsating encounters between the counties at underage level in recent seasons but in a game that produced 45 scores in 60 minutes of play, Cork’s greater potency up front was key in front of 4,629 patrons.
“We’re very pleased and it was a hugely satisfying performance,” admitted Cork manager Ger Fitzgerald. “We got a fabulous start but they came back at us as. Goals were the key for us tonight and our men inside had the courage to take on the defenders to go for goals. But we have to keep our feet on the ground now and realise that we’ve nothing won. We’ve to play the winners of Clare and Limerick now, and that’ll be very difficult.”
Luke O’Farrell was in dazzling form in the opening stages and he unleashed a bullet to the top corner of the net in the fifth minute, after Christopher Joyce had made a brilliant block in defence to kickstart the move.
Dean Brosnan fired home the second in the 23rd minute with a rasping shot that came back off the stanchion and that was a reward for his promising endeavours. Conor Lehane bundled home the third in the 36th minute and that exemplified the greater impact the Midleton youngster made in the second half, as he benefited from a switch to full-forward before the break.
The final goal was registered by Aidan Walsh, a sublime finish in the 46th minute, and he had a storming second half as Tipperary found it impossible to halt his dominance in the aerial exchanges. Cork’s remaining forwards also shone, with Michael O’Sullivan playing an important role in helping to stymie the influence exerted by Noel McGrath while Jamie Coughlan weighed in with a 0-5 haul.
Tipperary were unable to build on their quarter-final win over Waterford yet their recovery from a disastrous start had seemingly placed them right in contention. Cork’s early play was electric as they sprinted into a 1-7 to 0-1 lead by the ninth minute but remarkably Tipperary had whittled away that advantage within 10 minutes.
They never panicked and their corner-forward John O’Dwyer displayed superb accuracy from placed balls. Tipperary’s tactic of direct ball into Brian O’Meara paid off handsomely in the 15th minute when he grabbed a delivery by Kieran Morris and lashed a shot to the roof of the net. Brosnan’s goal afforded Cork some breathing space in the face of that Tipperary onslaught yet the game was delicately balanced as Cork lead 2-10 to 1-12 at the break.
Before the teams headed for the dressing rooms Fitzgerald expressed his displeasure to referee Michael Wadding at his first-half officiating and there was legitimacy to his complaints with the final free count standing 18-5 in Tipperary’s favour.
“I was unhappy,” revealed the Cork manager. “I just wanted to make the point that I felt they were getting frees a little easier. It didn’t improve in the second half so obviously what I said didn’t work but that’s the way it is.”
Tipperary made the brighter start to the second half as they outscored Cork 0-6 to 1-2 in the third quarter. Yet critically Cork tightened up in defence with substitute Damien Cahalane exerting a steadying influence, Joyce continuing to impress and captain William Egan leading the way. Goalkeeper Darren McCarthy made a vital save in the third quarter from O’Dwyer and was also alert to clear his lines as Morris stole in on goal.
At the other end Tipperary were struggling as their full-back line was placed under immense pressure while McCarthy’s puckouts repeatedly found the hand of Walsh at left half-forward. The Kanturk man’s goal opened the floodgates and in the closing exchanges Lehane and Coughlan split the posts with a succession of classy scores. Midfielder Adrian Ryan hit some good points for Tipperary yet they were unable to make real headway and the late switch of Noel McGrath to attack failed to alter the course of the game. Cork registered 1-7 in the final quarter while only conceding 0-3 and the strength of that finish propelled them to a place in the final on August 3.
Scorers for Cork: C Lehane 1-4, L O’Farrell 1-3, D Brosnan 1-2, A Walsh 1-1, J Coughlan 0-5 (0-2f), M O’Sullivan 0-2, W Egan (0-1f), S O’Farrell 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Dwyer 0-11 (0-10f), B O’Meara 1-1, N McGrath 0-3 (0-3f), A Ryan, S Curran 0-2 each, K Morris, J O’Neill 0-1 each.
CORK: D McCarthy; C Joyce, E Finn, S Corry; J Nagle, W Egan, M Ellis; S O’Farrell, D Roche; D Brosnan, C Lehane, A Walsh; L O’Farrell, M O’Sullivan, J Coughlan.
Subs: D Drake for Roche (half-time), D Cahalane for Finn (42), E O’Sullivan for S O’Farrell (58).
TIPPERARY: P Ryan; C Haugh, K O’Gorman, S O’Brien; J Barry, N McGrath, P Heffernan; B Stapleton, A Ryan; J O’Neill, S Curran, P Murphy; K Morris, B O’Meara, J O’Dwyer.
Subs: J Gallagher for Barry (25), S Maher for O’Brien (half-time), M Sheedy for Morris (50), W Maher for Murphy (54).
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford).
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