Conceding 1-26 can hardly be considered a shut-out but it felt like it.
The Tipperary attack, which put 2-29 on Kilkenny and 5-19 on Waterford in last year’s finals, was given all the space they could want to thrive, and more. But one-on-one against a Cork defence they’ve often terrified, the Rebels held firm, played from the front and got plenty of reward.
The lack of a sweeper was one obvious difference from last year. But, perhaps as much as a tactical difference, it helped change Cork’s attitude. From containing them to enabling us.
Just like Waterford in their two-game saga against Kilkenny last year, it was the moment they showed, player-by-player, they have the individuals to match the best.
Cork selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan described the game plan in terms of first principles.
“When you don’t have the ball, you get it back. When you have the ball, you give it to the guy in the best position. When we play that game, we’ll make mistakes, we know that. But you die in the effort of trying. If you make a mistake, so be it, you get the next ball. Mistakes don’t matter to us, we want guys to attack every ball like it’s their last.”
That fearlessness was characteristic of the Cork defence. Damien Cahalane, helped by Cork’s defensive discipline, held the country’s finest attacker Seamus Callanan to six points – only two from play. You have to go back 15 games for the last time Callanan scored less (0-5 in the 2014 championship opener against Limerick). Sure, Callanan may have set up John McGrath’s goal with an exquisite pass – but it was just one moment. Move on. Next ball.
“He’s a super player,” said Cahalane. “Every single one of the Tipp forwards, not matter who you’re marking, they’re all super players.
“After a game like that you’d be a bit stuck for words because you’d be out on your feet. We knew coming here Tipp are a super, super team and it was going to take us bringing our A-game to even put it up to them. To a man, every fella brought their A-game and worked their socks off. To a man, everyone stood up. The six backs stood up and worked hard.
“That’s hurling. It’s going to be 15-on-15. At times at the back you’re going to be under pressure but it’s the way we went. We went man-on-man and it worked for us.”
Shane Kingston’s 43rd- minute goal even allowed Cahalane to gamble against the notorious poacher.
“It gave us a bit of confidence, which is huge. It gave us at the back an opportunity to come out in front and be able to take that bit of a risk at times as well.
“It was a huge goal. For a young fella to get that chance and stick it on his championship debut, (it’s) fantastic.
“Every single one of them (debutants) had serious balls and worked their socks off. Everything fell for them and they were superb.”
It was as if Cork were liberated to play the game their way, with speed and daring. Cahalane went so far as to say the result was a secondary thought on the bus to Thurles.
“I’ll be honest, we came up here and the result was at the back of our minds. All we were looking to do was get fellas to go out, work hard and give a good account of ourselves. Today, it was good enough.”
Anthony Nash played a key role too. His save from Callanan raised the roof before the interval and his puck-out darts found players in space right into the climactic minutes. The only two times Tipperary led in the second-half, in the 56th and 65th minutes, Nash found Conor Lehane in space. Two pucks and level again.
“Tipp got two points after (Kingston’s goal), which showed they played very well. But the lads gave great options for puck-outs throughout, they ran around the field and it’s great.
“We came around the corner on the bus and you see thousands of Cork people. It was a great buzz and it does feed into it. You could sense that they’d belief in us. We had belief in ourselves and we always had. Tipp showed how clinical they are when John McGrath got the chance, bang, back of the net, and it got them right back into it.
“Had we belief? Honestly, yeah, we had within the camp. 100%. I can’t speak for people outside it. We were written off over the years but there’s a good panel there. Every day you went out last year you thought you had a chance as well. It turned out that we had a bad year but the management built on that and we learned from last year and pushed on.”
Looking ahead, though, Nash is quick to reset the narrative. We must go again.
“Emotions are running high coming out of Thurles after beating the All-Ireland champions. It’s a great feeling. There’s no point saying otherwise. We’re not going to hide a great victory but it’s all about Waterford now. The one thing is, it’s a one-off performance. We’ve to go again. Go again and go again and that’s the word that’s going to be coming out of us.
“Keep the heads level, there’s nothing done here only a good victory.”
Don’t miss the Paper Talk podcast - reflecting on Cork’s win over Tipp in a Munster hurling thriller.
To get the latest episode of PaperTalk automatically, SUBSCRIBE ON iTUNES
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved