BEFORE Tipperary played Clare in the Munster football quarter-final in October, Tipp manager David Power spoke about the massive “opportunity” for Tipperary, Clare, Limerick and Waterford to reach a Munster final.
Tipp certainly knew the value of it being the first time in eight years that Cork and Kerry found themselves on the same side in Munster, and it being just those two counties on that side of the draw; Tipp drew the short straw in 2012 because they had to play Kerry in a quarter-final.
Now that they’ve reached the final, that opportunity appears all the greater again for Tipperary. Cork’s win against Kerry was seriously impressive but Cork still wouldn’t hold the same fear factor for Tipp as Kerry would. This may be a different Cork team but Tipp have still beaten Cork, something they haven’t managed to do against Kerry (Tipp did beat Kerry in the McGrath Cup in January but it was a team of rookies).
Tipp’s Munster semi-final win against Cork in 2016 was a massive breakthrough.
Tipp defeated Cork in the 2018 league. When Cork turned over Tipp in the 2017 Munster semi-final, they needed a late Luke Connolly goal to secure the result. When the sides met earlier in this year’s league, Cork scraped over the line by one point.
Cork scored three goals to Tipperary’s none that evening, which was decisive in the end, but Tipperary have always been considered a goalscoring team. They have only scored three goals to date in this championship — two against Clare and one against Limerick — but green flags are a threat Cork are fully aware off, especially with Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan on board.
Tipp have always thrived on their attacking principles. In their last three games (against Limerick, Clare and Leitrim in the league) Tipp averaged 26 shots per match. In total, 17 players have scored from play, with Sweeney top of that list having bagged 1-7 from 12 shots. However, Liam Casey has the highest average shot quality with 2-4 from 10 shots.
Liam Boland has nailed 0-6 from 11 shots but Quinlivan hasn’t been as prolific as Tipp would like, or need, him to be; in those three games, Quinlivan has scored just 0-4 from play from nine shots.
On the otherhand, it is often too easy to read too much into shooting numbers, especially at this time of the year, and discount an individual player’s wider contribution. Quinlivan is a prime example because he has been an assists machine for Tipperary, having assisted 19 shots, for a total of 3-5.
Jack Kennedy has also been impressive in that category, having assisted 13 shots for a total of 0-8. Sweeney has assisted nine shots for 1-5.
Tipp have sourced 51% of their scores from turnovers, while 32% of their scores have come off their own kickout. Quinlivan is a big target for Tipp’s long kickouts, as are Jack Kennedy and Liam Casey.
In terms of shots conceded, Tipp have coughed up a total of 44 shots off turnovers, and 35 shots off the opposition kickout. Cork will have noted how Tipp have lost 22% of the opposition kickout to clean possession, and 35% on breaking ball, especially given how Cork trusted themselves on their long kickout against Kerry.
The pressure is on Cork to deliver, especially after beating Kerry, but this is also another huge opportunity to frank the massive progress made over the last 18 months. After rattling Kerry last year, Cork performed well against Dublin, before coming up short against Tyrone, which ended their chances of progressing in the Super 8s.
Cork were efficient and business-like in getting out of Division 3, while the cold-blooded and clinical way they went after Kerry was a real testament to how well-coached, drilled and managed this Cork side is.
In so many ways, Kerry played not to lose while Cork threw off the shackles and just went for it. Facing Tipperary now is a whole different mental challenge but Cork need to adopt the same fearless attitude again. The opposition should almost be irrelevant, and Cork will now target replicating, and surpassing, the performance levels reached against Kerry.
Cork’s ferocious work-rate was absolutely central to beating Kerry; scoring 1-8 of their 1-12 from turnovers showed how much they hustled and hounded Kerry out of their stride. Outside of turnovers-in-possession, Cork only turned over the ball on 13 occasions over the 90 plus minutes, which showed incredible discipline and organisation in such horrendous conditions.
On a day made for turnovers that discipline was even more central to Cork’s success considering Kerry only sourced 0-6 off turnovers.
Cork should be surging into this match full of confidence but so will Tipperary, particularly after the way in which they rescued the semi-final against Limerick, with Sweeney’s Maurice Fitzgerald-esque wonder equalising score from a sideline. And Tipp will feel much better about themselves facing Cork than Kerry.
On the otherhand, Cork can’t be going into this game in any better shape after the way in which they took down Kerry. Ronan McCarthy spoke afterwards about the group’s frustration at being regarded as nearly-men but former Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice rightly pointed out the following day that Cork can shed that tag now “but only with regard to Kerry”.
And this Munster final gives Cork the ideal opportunity to show that Kerry was only a step on the road to a greater destination.