Cork sweat as Tipperary find their groove

Tipperary 2-20 Cork 1-23
A weekend which began with an emphatic result saw a split decision yesterday in Semple Stadium.

There were echoes of the referendum at the Killinan End late on in Cork-Tipperary’s Munster championship round-robin game, with Hawk-Eye deliberating on Jake Morris’s injury-time effort to level matters.

Why precisely the electronic adjudicator was needed is a mystery: the clue was in the Cork defenders’ body language as the ball took flight, and Morris’s confident turn away on striking.

When it flashed on-screen, the Tá was as emphatic as the referendum’s.

A draw, then. But how did it happen?

Yesterday Cork were nine points ahead at one stage and humming with efficiency, clinical, almost German-engineered, and yet they might well have lost. Tipperary were foundering in the first half, with emergency flares being sent up from every line of the field, but a win wouldn’t have flattered them as they broke for home late on.

Key to the result were Anthony Nash’s dazzling reflex saves in both halves, from Patrick Maher and John O’Dwyer respectively. The Maher save was terrific, but when O’Dwyer pulled first time late in the second half Nash had turned it aside before the Cork support had time to even fear a goal.

Taken in conjunction with Brian Hogan’s calm, point-defying pull-down of a Darragh Fitzgibbon effort that looked to be creeping over the bar the Town End, a manager with goalkeeping issues, say in the north-west corner of the next jurisdiction, would have found a ready solution to his problem at either end of Semple Stadium.

The 22,000-plus crowd left the ground with plenty to ponder. Cork’s first half was marked by mesmerising forward movement, often resulting in scores being taken with little pressure on the shooter. Tipperary struggled hugely with Nash’s puck-out strategy and if it weren’t for Jason Forde’s superb improvised goal at the end of the first quarter, they might have been too far behind at the break to recover.

As it was, Shane Kingston conjured up a Cork goal with five minutes to half-time that summed up Tipperary’s misery — the Douglas man had time to lose possession on his run, regain that possession, and slot home from an acute angle: 1-15 to 1-6 at the short whistle.

“It was Cork, Cork, Cork, we were in dire straits and I’m sure that’s how it looked to ye guys,” said Tipp boss Michael Ryan afterwards of the half-time break. What were his instructions?

“Some of it can’t be printed. But, look, what do you ever say? You’re appealing to the character that’s in them. The majority of that team that we’ve been supported for 10 odd years, they’re made of way better stuff than that.” Tipperary showed that in the second half, aided by switching Ronan and Brendan Maher. The game took off as Tipp reeled Cork in, aided by a fine Noel McGrath goal, but Cork stretched for home in the closing stages, thanks to a driving final quarter by Shane Kingston.

Morris popped up in injury time with his equaliser, however, which gave red and white and blue and gold alike positives, and a point, to take home.

“A game of two halves, that’s really what it was,” said Cork boss John Meyler.

“I thought some of our play in the first half was incredible — the pace, the movement, the scores, but we hit eight wides.

“We started the second half sloppily, conceded four or five points on the run to Tipperary. It got them into the game when we needed to shut up shop in the second half, but we showed great resilience midway through the second half. We were under the cosh but we got back and hit some important scores.”

Smaller contests exist within larger structures in all sports, of course, and Cork-Tipperary is a case in point.

This is an eternal struggle with imperatives sewn into the very genes of the participants, which meant it was no surprise to hear Michael Ryan cite DNA in his post-match chat. In other contexts that might be hyperbole: in this rivalry it’s simple doctrine.

Still, lessons must be learned. Both sides take the field next weekend, after all. Process and application are the watchwords.

The signs are good for Tipperary: all week we were treated to suggestions that yesterday might end everything, as though the Premier were some kind of plucky underdog punching above their weight rather than a side which won an All-Ireland final two years ago by nine points.

Plucky overdog might be a better description, though it was disconcerting, on the way to the stadium yesterday, to see the Tipperary GAA shop advertising a half-price sale. Still, diagnoses of apocalypse look overwrought. Their front eight spluttered for 35 minutes yesterday but also posted 1-14 in the second half.

The defence looked uncharacteristically tentative and vulnerable in the first half, but half-time surgery improved it. The real concerns for Michael Ryan and company will be his side’s sluggish start and that air of confusion facing Cork’s first-half movement.

Cork have different issues. It was significant that Meyler referred to his side’s first-half wides tally (nine by this count). In the immediate aftermath it seemed like nit-picking, but in reality it was a stiff lesson for a young team: Cork’s full-forward line yielded 1-12 from play, and would have benefited from even more ball put into their hands.

Other metrics cast Cork in a good light, such as the three Tipperary shots which were hooked by men in red, spilling wide, Sean O’Donoghue’s key blocks, the spread of scorers, but the question to be answered now is how Meyler’s side cope with different challenges.

Limerick, with their Alpine forward line and canny playmaker, Cian Lynch, will play a subtly different game, one which will ask questions in particular of Anthony Nash’s puck-outs.

Roll on Saturday, then, and another localised referendum.

Scorers for Tipperary: J. Forde (1-6)(4 frees, 2 65s); N. McGrath (1-3); J. McGrath (0-5); Patrick Maher, B. Maher, B. McCarthy, S. Callanan, J. O’Dwyer, J. Morris (0-1 each).

Scorers for Cork: S. Kingston (1-5); P. Horgan (3 frees) S. Harnedy (0-5 each); D. Kearney (0-4); C. Lehane, B. Cooper (0-2 each).

TIPPERARY: B. Hogan, S. O’Brien, S. Kennedy, M. Cahill, J. O’Dwyer, R. Maher, Padraic Maher (c), B. Maher, B. McCarthy, D. McCormack, N. McGrath, Patrick Maher, S. Callanan, J. Forde, J. McGrath.

Subs: P. Feehan for Padraic Maher (blood 12-14); J. O’Dwyer for Patrick Maher (HT); J. Morris for Callanan and G. Browne for McCarthy (71).

CORK: A. Nash, S. O’Donoghue, D. Cahalane, C. Spillane, C. Joyce, M. Ellis, M. Coleman, D. Fitzgibbon, B. Cooper, S. Harnedy (c), C. Lehane, D. Kearney, L. Meade, S. Kingston, P. Horgan.

Subs: B. Lawton for Meade (53); T. O’Mahony for Kearney (59); J. Coughlan for Harnedy (71).

Referee: J. Keenan (Wicklow).

IT MATTERED

 Jason Forde’s first half goal. In a game throbbing with fine scores, it was crucial to the contest - if Forde hadn’t cracked home that fourteenth minute finish Cork would surely have been too far out of sight by half-time.

CAN’T IGNORE 

The implications of a point apiece. Defeat wouldn’t have definitively spelt the end of Tipperary’s summer but recovery would have been very difficult.

Cork were nine points up and should have closed it out but wake up this morning with their fate in their hands.

GOOD DAY 

The two forward units. Cork were dominant in the first half with a wide spread of scorers as opposed to relying on Patrick Horgan. Tipperary were on top in the second half and Michael Ryan will be happy to see the McGrath brothers, John and Noel, come back into form with a couple of games left in the round robin.

BAD DAY 

Official indecision. The Hawk- Eye flip-flopping over a Patrick Horgan effort - first Ta, then Nil - wasn’t a good sign. There didn’t seem to be a need for the electronic eye with Morris’s leveller either.

SIDELINE SMARTS

 Honours even in a game that ended level. Cork’s first-half dominance was a tribute to the understanding and co-operation between their midfielders and half-forward line in particular.

Tipperary’s second-half dominance owed much to their fortified half-back line and improvement in the middle of the field, helped by deep-lying half-forwards.

PHYSIO ROOM 

Tipp’s Michael Breen faces a four-week lay-off with an ankle injury sustained in training while Michael Ryan is hopeful that Cathal Barrett can make the squad for next week’s game against Waterford. Cork boss John Meyler hopes to have Michael Cahalane (hamstring) available for the clash against Limerick on Saturday night while Robbie O’Flynn remains out ‘for a few weeks’ following his concussion last week.

BEST ON SHOW

 John and Noel McGrath had terrific second halves, Sean O’Donoghue and Colm Spillane impressed, but the man who did most in both halves was Shane Kingston. He hit Cork’s first-half goal and was still able to push them into the lead approaching injury time.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

John Keenan of Wicklow didn’t seem to police free hand tackling at all but was helped by two teams playing in the right spirit.

WHERE NEXT

Cork host Limerick on Saturday night while Tipperary must go to Limerick to play Waterford on Sunday.


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