IN an Irish Examiner Podcast last Thursday, Derek McGrath went for Tipperary in his preview against Cork on the basis of Cork’s build-up to the game.
McGrath felt that Cork were at a disadvantage, having just two and a half weeks to prepare since the round of club matches finished in mid-April.
“I was surprised, especially on the back of the underperformance in the league,” said McGrath. “Tipp have had a massive preparation and there is a little bit of doubt about Cork, for me, regarding their preparation.” Everything gets analysed to death in hindsight, but it becomes even more forensic after an underperformance.
Cork were poor on Sunday. They were flat. Their touch was too often un-Cork like for a team that has prided itself on sharp and crisp hurling. And Tipperary always looked to be a stride ahead of them.
Despite their class and massive firepower last year — especially against an athletic team like Clare, both in their opening game and in the Munster final — Cork just eventually ran Clare into the ground.
Much of the discussion prior to Sunday’s game focused on the comparative pace of both teams, and how Cork were expected to burn Tipperary with their speed, especially around the middle eight. Tipperary were really sharp, and defensively well-set-up. They were more mobile and athletic than they’ve been in recent seasons, but was McGrath onto something, given that Cork were so flat?
Cork have trained hard all year. Every detail of preparation is finely calibrated, but, with such a limited run-in together, were Cork undercooked?
To take it a stage further, did Cork miscalculate the importance of the result when the sides met in the league in Pairc Uí Rinn in March? When Tipperary put 1-29 past Cork that afternoon, the scoreline was dismissed as a dog-day for Cork, who showed little or no interest in the battle. Yet Tipperary exceeded that total on Sunday to reaffirm their superior scoring power and authority over Cork.
They were on fire in the second half, scoring 1-15 from 23 scoring chances. Tipp scored two goals, but they could have had six.
When Tipperary finally got their second goal, in the 50th minute, the build-up play and execution highlighted the difference in killer instinct between the teams. O’Dwyer lasered a crossfield pass into John McGrath. The goal pushed Tipperary ahead, 2-20 to 0-18, and the outcome already had an inevitable feel about it.
Some of Cork’s defending, especially for McGrath’s goal, was very naive, but Tipperary were extremely sharp all afternoon; 2-25 of their total came from play, while 11 different starting players scored. Their movement and link play, up-front, created huge space in the Cork defence. Just as importantly for Tipperary, though, they had a solid defensive shape.
The three Mahers — Padraic, Ronan, and Brendan — formed a wall across their half-back line and Cork’s running game was never able to penetrate it. Cork did hit 1-24, but there were only a handful of occasions when Cork’s searing pace carved the Tipperary defence open.
Tipperary were sloppy in their tackling at stages of the first half, which had given Cork a foothold, because eight of Patrick Horgan’s 10 points in that half had come from placed balls. Yet once Tipperary sorted out their tackling discipline, Cork were restricted to just 14 second-half scoring chances.
With Cork having to travel to the Gaelic Grounds next Sunday, this was a serious wake-up call. Apart from being flat and off-the-pace, their puckout was hammered, while too many of their big players underperformed. Bill Cooper’s physicality and aggression were badly missed at midfield, while Cork’s talented young players (although Shane Kingston did get through a lot of good work, scoring three points, being fouled for a free, having an assist, and almost scoring a goal) were well below par.
Apart from one devastating scoring burst midway through the first half, Cork were never able to fully impose their will on the game. In that period, Cork showed how threatening they could be, but they couldn’t sustain that charge.
This Cork team have always been able to keep the scoreboard moving quickly, even when they’re not hurling well, but they couldn’t maintain that rhythm and fluency after hitting six unanswered points.
Over the 70-plus minutes, Horgan, Harnedy, and Conor Lehane made a combined 26 plays. They mined 1-14 from that possession (in both scores, assists, and frees won). They are impressive statistics in any circumstances, but, along with Horgan’s metronomic free-taking, those numbers needed to be higher to match Tipperary’s firepower, when so many other Cork players were struggling.
When the stats are broken down further, Cork were still too reliant on Horgan. From just six possessions, he scored four incredible points and won a free. He should have had another free, late-on, but the referee didn’t give it when Horgan could have been in on goal.
O’Dwyer was the game’s standout performer, but Tipperary always had someone standing up and leading the charge. Tipperary showed their intent early when Seamus Callanan scored a goal inside three minutes. Callanan was devastating in that half, from 10 plays, when scoring 1-3, being fouled for a converted free, and engineering a penalty, which was saved by Anthony Nash.
Callanan was well-marshalled by Eoin Cadogan after the break. Niall O’Leary also tried hard, but Cork’s defence was always under huge pressure.
Tipperary always looked dangerous. The outstanding Niall O’Meara almost had the ball in the net in the 42nd minute, but the goal was coming and when it did arrive, eight minutes later, the die looked cast.
It was. And the scores kept coming.