A classic? No: yesterday’s All-Ireland semi-final won’t shoulder its way into the annals of classic Cork-Tipperary encounters, but those in blue and gold will hardly worry.
Semi-finals are for winning, and a comprehensive win tastes very sweet indeed.
Tipperary were masters of Cork in every facet of the game yesterday, which didn’t make it as a contest to the three-quarter stage.
Skill, application, accuracy: whatever the category, Tipp headed it with something to spare. At the break they were only two points ahead but by the finish they were double-digit winners, which only underwrote their superiority.
When a ball popped out of Mark Ellis’s hand for Seamus Callanan to point with 10 minutes left, that was the game in miniature: Rob O’Shea’s goal late on for Cork was a consolation only.
Tipperary took the initiative and held it by the windpipe for much of the game. After weeks of hearing about the centrality of ‘Bonner’ Maher to the Tipperary effort, Eamon O’Shea’s team outflanked Cork through bypassing Maher almost entirely.
Targeting Seamus Callanan worked out well for the blue and gold early on: the direct route mightn’t have been too palatable for the thousands surging up the M8 yesterday morning, but it was a profitable approach in Croke Park.
Central to that was Tipperary’s crispness on the restart: Darren Gleeson has a booming delivery but he delivered some eye-of-the-needle puckouts to launch Tipp attacks from their half-back line.
In these pages Friday Dónal Óg Cusack talked about Gleeson coming out of Brendan Cummins’ shadow: his efficiency restarting the game was a big step in that direction yesterday, as were a couple of smart saves as Cork came looking for respectability on the scoreboard.
He was aided by Cork’s slowness in addressing his puck-out strategy, admittedly.
The attackers in red were neither tight on their men for Tipp puck-outs nor withdrawn into their own half to defend attacks, and that indecision contaminated their shooting as well: Cork shot nine first-half wides and created no goal chances.
At the other end Tipp were far more productive: Seamus Callanan tucked away a clinical goal and they carved out another two half-chances before half-time.
Yet there were still only two points in it at half-time, and Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy admitted to optimism at the break, particularly as the swirling wind seemed to favour the side playing into Hill 16.
However, an enforced move aided Tipperary. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher was the focus of any number of studies and articles as the fulcrum of the Tipp attack at centre-forward, but an early rib injury forced his manager to move him to the full-forward line.
Tipp were motoring well even before Maher won the ball and off-loaded cleverly for Callanan to bury his second goal, but that answered any question about the identity of the winners.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy projected honesty and dejection in equal parts after the game.
“We were comprehensively outplayed in many positions on the field, and when you’re playing a team of Tipperary’s quality, you can’t hope to win the game in that situation, really.
“I felt coming into the game we were in good shape, we trained very well, the Munster final was a good boost to our confidence, but today we weren’t at the races.”
For his part, Eamon O’Shea was swift to give praise to his players for their win.
“I thought it was a very workmanlike display,” said the Tipperary manager.
“I was very happy with the character, how they went about their business.
“I was very proud of the way they approached the game. They decide what’s going to happen on the pitch and they decided they weren’t going to let an opportunity like this pass them by.”
That opportunity is of course an All-Ireland final date with Kilkenny, which is no longer the invitation to penal servitude it once was.
After last week’s semi-final in a monsoon there was a general sense that the Cats would be hard pressed to match the intensity of their final opponents, particularly on a dry day with a hard sod.
On yesterday’s evidence it might be worth pointing out that even in last Sunday week’s testing conditions the standard of touch and handling seemed higher than it was yesterday.
There’s also the classic tactical conundrum facing Tipperary.
Do they go with the short puck-outs that worked so well yesterday against Cork?
Kilkenny are unlikely to blink in the face of a team launching attacks from deep, and compressing the play in their own half has been a trademark of their success for many years.
Likewise the use of Callanan as a spearhead.
Though Mark Ellis sat deep in yesterday’s semi-final the Drom & Inch full-forward was able to find space and involve his fellow attackers.
Brian Hogan has spent a handy decade or so blocking the corridor to the Kilkenny goal, though, and will hardly concede space to ‘Bonner’ Maher, for instance, if he tries to make inroads.
Sifting through Eamon O’Shea’s comments yesterday, his players’ decision not to allow the game to become a shoot-out seems significant, but will their opponents in the final allow them to dictate the terms of engagement?
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody was at yesterday’s semi-final and was laughing when projected on the big screen but that probably had more to do with the, ah, vocal reaction from the supporters in the ground to seeing him.
Expect less mirth next month.
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