ALL week the questions had been swirling.
Would the win over Kerry mean anything if Cork lost the next day out? Ronan McCarthy himself mentioned the different type of expectation and his interest in whether they’d have the maturity to deal with it.
Could Cork evolve the game-plan that’d worked two weeks ago against a new challenge?
If we didn’t like hearing the questions, we got the answers we didn’t want in the end. Cork came up short of a sharper, cleverer Tipp team with a performance that just didn’t have the required purpose or quality to win a Munster title.
After the momentum and belief of the Kerry game, the hurt from these flaws will take a while.
Cork weren’t good enough in any aspect of the game to deserve a win here.
Tactically, Tipp set up to crowd Cork’s running channels and then open up the spaces for runners on the break to supply their inside-forwards and basically everything worked out for them.
Off the ball Cork were never in control of Tipp’s forwards, Conor Sweeney especially did wreck right from the start with his snappy finishing. Along with Michael Quinlivan, they nabbed 0-12, which was a huge contribution. Tipp counterattacked efficiently on Cork time and again in the first half.
Tipp didn’t run into contact as often as Kerry had a fortnight ago and were cleverer in getting their shooters on the ball — one example early on where a runner tapped back to Sweeney who clipped a score showed Cork struggled to control their defensive match-ups or zones.
Tipp’s half-back line carried ball into danger areas without being engaged often enough and Cork just struggled to get numbers around Tipp ballcarriers.
A lot was made of the youth in Cork’s defence and there was an element of learning here against a Tipp attack that’s played an awful lot of football and had the smarts to make chances count. Seán Powter’s awareness of space and qualities were desperately missed.
On the ball will be Cork’s main regret though as any of the assurance and composure in possession of the Kerry win was just sort of lost.
Cork hadn’t really needed to break lines all that often to beat Kerry but when they had to here, they couldn’t figure out a way.
Over and over Cork possessions broke down as they tried to penetrate Tipp’s defensive line around the 45 and encountered a range of problems in creating or scoring chances.
They took wrong decisions on the ball or were sloppy in execution or rushed passes or snatched at shots when they did arrive. We started noting Cork errors on the ball and the page filled up before half-time.
In one short spell, Colm O’Callaghan lost control under pressure, Luke Connolly overhit a kickpass to Brian Hurley, Hurley himself took on a shot over his shoulder that went wide, even Ruairí Deane got turned over in possession, which never really happens.
By the second half, with the game there for the taking a little as Cork got some control of the middle third, the feeling of edginess persisted in all the attacking plays.
Luke Connolly’s ability to strike a ball or work a shot was gone by half-time. Mark Collins, Seán White, Deane, Cathail O’Mahony, Michael Hurley all had wides, Maurice Shanley had a shot when he should have had other options, Kevin O’Donovan got turned over and Cork players got caught running in isolation far too often and so could never move the ball into the scoring areas in space.
It was just all lacking in the kind of sureness that’s needed to win games at this level and there was a desperation from pretty early on of this feeling of the game slipping away.
Brian Hurley was cut off completely from the rest of the team as Cork couldn’t really get him on ball.
Those goals Cork had gotten in the league game never looked like arriving as Cork never really got runners in behind. Cork had 16 shots from play and scored six.
Add plenty more balls lost inside the Tipp forty-five and that’s an awful lot of positions that Cork failed to get anything from — 0-14 is never going to be enough scoring on a reasonably decent day.
Tipp might have run out of legs a little but they made far fewer mistakes on the ball. Cork had the legs, Ian Maguire and Mark Collins especially just never stopped showing and trying to make it happen, but lacked the same purpose and game experience as a group in the end.
Here’s the thing. In a normal circumstance and with Cork so inexperienced in certain areas of the field, this wouldn’t have been a shock.
In Ronan McCarthy’s first league game in charge in 2018 Tipp ransacked the Páirc and Cork aren’t at the stage as a group that can win these games playing badly.
The disappointment will be from the feeling that the Kerry win might have been a gamechanger, that Cork might have kicked on from there with a new kind of confidence and performance levels might go up.
That idea came crashing down again here and there’s just the sense of another dispiriting ending and another year missed left.