FOLLOWING my Clare-Waterford preview last week, when I said the real championship was only starting, I’ve met many a Tipp man who told me I got that wrong too — the real Munster championship, they said, is only starting this Sunday.
And where we’re going tomorrow, to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, a number of friends of mine from that county are telling me that I will be welcome in the real home of hurling.
You know something, whatever about the Tipp lads, I think I’m inclined to agree with the Cork men. Cork is a hurling city, and Páirc Uí Chaoimh is probably as good a venue as there is in the country, a real amphitheatre, fantastic layout, knowledgeable fans.
I’m going to start this analysis with the form team in hurling, and that’s Tipperary. Unbeaten so far this year in all competitions, a very level-headed management team in Liam Sheedy, Michael Ryan and Eamonn O’Shea, they have been very impressive so far.
It’s a young team, a fresh team, but in fairness to Babs Keating, the man who was there last year — and Liam has acknowledged this — many of those players were blooded last year. They’re a relatively experienced outfit at this stage, have kept their cool despite their whirlwind start to the year, are not getting carried away with themselves. I like that.
The most impressive line for Tipp this year — as it has been for Cork — has been their half-back line. Eamonn Corcoran did get a bit of a going over in the league final, but then again he injured his foot early on, and all through he has been outstanding, while Conor O’Mahony at centre-back and Shane Maher on the other wing haven’t put a foot wrong.
Strong, and forceful, they have held that area; put a strong midfield in front of that line and it’s reinforced even further, and that’s what Tipp have got.
Who is the number one midfielder in the country so far this year? Jerry O’Connor? Cha Fitzpatrick? Tom Kenny? None of the above — it’s Shane McGrath. He’s going to need help this Sunday, however.
Two of the three I named above, Tom and Jerry, are two of the best and when they get into gear it’s very hard to stop them. Shane won’t do that on his own, and hard working and all as Benny Dunne was, I think Tipp have made a good move in putting James Woodlock out in the middle of the field. He runs as hard and as fast as McGrath, he can hurl; this would be my midfield combination also, a good combination, one to run with O'Connor and Kenny.
However, Tipp’s half-forward line has been a big problem, and here I think Hugh Moloney is a massive loss. He was being groomed for the centre-forward position and was looking well there — who’s going to win ball there now?
Seamus Callinan is a solid replacement, a big man, and they’ve gone for size as well in Ryan O’Dwyer on the wing, both of whom have a bit of pace as well. But these two, along with Seamus Butler, are really going to have to be on their toes. The Cork half-back line is seasoned, and they will be particularly aware of the threat posed inside by the Tipp full-forward line, of stopping the supply — this will be a crucial battle.
Mind you, a big part of Lar Corbett’s game is to go roaming out around the 40, but Cork will be aware of this; Lar will be meeting some heavy traffic out there, and Diarmuid O’Sullivan won’t exactly be sitting back admiring the Tipp man either. Lar will earn his corn in this one. Interesting battle inside too, with Brian Murphy on the in-form Eoin Kelly.
I’ve mentioned a few Cork players already, but let’s look at them more closely. The half-back line I’ve already mentioned, and they’re all household names at this stage; John Gardiner, Ronan Curran, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, three magnificent hurlers, great defenders, all capable of scoring, so much experience.
When they can keep a youngster of the undoubted potential of Eoin Cadogan off the team, they must still have what it takes.
Then you go outside them, to midfield, and what a pair Cork have here, what an understanding they’ve developed over the years. Tom and Jerry, Kenny and O'Connor — you can't take your eye off those two for one second or they’re gone, and when they’re gone, they’re out to do damage.
Then you look to the Cork forwards; their inside line is all U-21, Paudie O'Sullivan, Pa Cronin and Cathal Naughton, and by God these fellas must be good! Look at who Cork have left on the bench — Joe Deane, Neil Ronan, Kieran Murphy, all excellent inside forwards, all subs.
That’s a big statement by Gerald McCarthy and his selectors, a statement of intent by Cork, putting young lads on what is a very good Tipperary full-back line.
Talk about being thrown in at the deep end — they’ll earn their scores, that’s for sure.
Outside them, Cork have gone for experience on the wings in the shape of Ben O’Connor and Timmy McCarthy, two old reliables, with another youngster, Kevin Canty at centre-forward. Again, a gamble, but with Niall McCarthy on the bench, Cork again have cover.
I wonder though, with all those youngsters in the full-forward line, could we see the experienced Ben going to full-forward, the position he plays for his club, with Cronin using his height as a ball-winning wing-forward, Naughton perhaps as a third midfielder? Even if they don’t start there, it’s another option for Cork during the game.
So, fascinating duels all over the pitch, both individual and as a line. Fascinating off it also, the Tipp crowd with their sandwiches and flasks of cold tae, the Cork fans with their crubeens — the dogs around Blackrock will have a feast!
Who’ll come out on top? Tipp are the form team, the dark horses for a lot of people to win the All-Ireland sooner rather than later, but I have a feeling for Cork. They have more to lose in this one, they have things to prove after the strike earlier in the year, and when they’re in that kind of mood, it’s hard to put them down. Cork, by a nose.
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