There is just one rule Seán Óg Ó hAilpín applies to Cork-Tipperary matches: Worry about the wounded.
As a teenager, he witnessed how Cork dethroned the All-Ireland champions in a Munster final only to suffer the same fate to Tipperary at the same stage the next year.
Even if it did galvanise Tipperary towards the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Cork’s 2010 Munster quarter-final win over their neighbours came as quite the surprise. On the flipside, Tipperary’s 2007 qualifier win against the previous year’s All-Ireland runners-up was a turn-up for the books.
The mention of that game in Semple Stadium prompts a wince from Ó hAilpín. The scars remain and they tell him Tipperary now have an edge. “If I was still playing, I’d rather be in a Tipperary dressing room than a Cork dressing room. You know like that, this is it, this is the line-in-the-sand game. It’s either do or die or to hell with it. In the Cork camp, yeah, they’ll be taking it seriously but, put it this way, Tipp need to push the agenda on Sunday.”
Ó hAilpín knows Cork won’t be assuming they will have it easy but wonders how much that knowledge will help them when the home side have more riding on the game.
“The team on form going in, you don’t want to be the team in form going in because it’s like a bad luck sign, really. I’ve been involved in games and seen as a spectator games where Cork have gone in raging-hot favourites only to go home past the Horse and Jockey (Hotel) with the tail between their legs.
“It’s in Cork people’s DNA when they’re playing Tipperary (to know) that this is a tradition equal to Cork. They’d be foolish to go up thinking they might see a repeat of Tipperary’s performance last Sunday. They had a bad performance but they’re not a bad team. I think Cork will be tested in ways they probably weren’t last weekend.”
What’s certain is Tipperary’s home advantage will matter little when the Cork following amass in the Town End and the players take to a field almost as common to them as Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“The pitch is so big it suits Cork’s style of hurling,” says Ó hAilpín. “They like open space, especially at this time of the year, the ball is zipping around and that helps fast players, the surface is ideal for that.
“Semple Stadium seems to be ingrained in players’ heads; it’s the Mecca as a player or a spectator. If you want to be a Corkonian, it’s like, ‘Drink Murphy’s, eat drisheen, go to Thurles’. It seems to be on that list. So it just captures people’s imagination.
“And I think the main reason is that Cork have had so much success there, probably more there than at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“I still get a generation of people who tell me, ‘Oh, that game in Thurles? Yeah, Cork will be three points up before the ball is thrown in’. They still believe that. There’s no scientific foundation for that, but when it comes to these things, it’s more a mental thing.”
After a superb debut season in 2017, and based on last Sunday’s display against Clare, Mark Coleman looks to be bringing that scintillating Munster form into this year. Ó hAilpín marvels at how the 20-year-old has filled the No7 jersey once in his possession.
“He’s a class act. This fella is putting all the previous No7s or any wing-backs to shame. And Cork have produced great wing-backs over the years, I am going back to Denis Coughlan now, Pat Harnett, Jim Cashman, John Gardiner, Ronan Curran. He is playing like a fella who is after 10 seasons. But he has great temperament on big match days and you can’t buy that.
“I have shared dressing rooms with great players and played against great players and as soon as they cross the white line, 50,000 people, and unfortunately can’t produce. This fella can do it, it is a sign of a great player who can do it under that kind of pressure.”
Ó hAilpín’s appreciation for Coleman initially jumped when he worked with him in the UCC Freshers last year. “The kid is a beauty to deal with.
There are some guys who just have to show them and coach them, but this fella, even if he wasn’t coached, he’s so good I’d say he can coach himself to play the game. And he is a launching pad for the forwards.
I had friends who used to tell me about John Divilly’s delivery when he played for Galway — his nickname was ‘John Delivery’ because of that. And Mark is like that for the Cork forwards.”
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