A CORK-TIPP pairing in a Munster final, irrespective of the grade, has an appeal all of its own. Wednesday night’s U21 decider, between the two counties, will be no different.
Cork boss, Denis Ring, was very impressed with the Premier County in their victory over the holders, Limerick, in the semi-final. He says they will be a formidable challenge.
“This is what it’s all about. This is what every young fellow in Cork wants and I am sure it’s the same in Tipperary.
“It is the final that everybody wants and we are really looking forward to it, It’s going to be a tough ask. Tipp were excellent against Limerick. I was up watching it and they blew them away, to be honest.
“The game was over, really, after 20 minutes, but I wasn’t that overly surprised, because they are a very good team. We had seen them a lot. Limerick had a very good team, on paper. I think they had 12 of last year’s panel that won the All-Ireland. I would have forecast a very tight game and I don’t think anybody had predicted an outcome like it turned out to be.
“Limerick threw in the towel with 15 minutes to go. They started taking off their seniors and maybe the senior match the previous Sunday had something to do with it. Tipp had been able to prepare exclusively for the game, after being knocked out of the senior, and Limerick had that luxury last year, when they, too, were knocked out of the senior.”
Tipperary have built on the strong platform of their minor teams, who have had considerable success in recent years.
“Tipp are a very well-balanced team, with great athleticism and pace and they are coming off the back of this equivalent year three years ago. They got to the All-Ireland minor final, they won the Munster, and the year after they won the All-Ireland convincingly.
“I suppose, you have two very solid teams to build from there and, on that basis, you are always going to have a strong squad. They are very skilful hurlers. We know them well and they are very well-organised, well-coached.
“But we have our plan in place and we are looking forward to the challenge.’’
Reflecting on the semi-final win over Waterford, Ring believed that it was a mixed return from his players.
“There are two sides to it. Number one, we were poor in the first-half. We were not kind of at it, really. Why that was so, I think, to be fair to the senior lads on the team, to be coming back from the match against Waterford, three days earlier, was very tough.
“It’s one thing physically having to do it, but mentally it’s very hard, as well. I think they found that difficult, but, to be fair to the same guys, they turned it around for us, when it was necessary, in the second-half.
“The second side of it was that we had seen Waterford play three times and we knew what they were capable of. I think the general public, to be fair, were not giving them as much credit as they deserved.
“We had seen them play Tipp and they had a very good system going and they had all their players together, all of the time, exclusively.”
Ring was delighted with the win, emphasising the importance of it.
“This was an All-Ireland final, to an extent. Win and you knew that you were hurling into August, at least, but, if you lost, it was season over. It was a massive win, in that regard. Waterford were highly motivated. So were we, but, mentally, it was difficult for the seniors coming back.
“By half-time in that game, I was kind of happy that we were turning a corner. Our match-ups were better. Billy Hennessy stormed into the game, after struggling a bit early on with Darragh Lyons. I think our marking got better. We changed a few things. Mark Coleman was more comfortable on the wing and Eoghan Murphy was, too, in the centre.
“Darragh Fitz tore into the game and I thought, in the second-half, we performed quite well, but we still found it difficult to get away from them.”
The Cork boss believed that the test they got on that occasion may be of great benefit going forward.
“Yes, we learned a lot from that game. We learned a lot ourselves and so did the lads and it was very easy to talk to them afterwards. You always respect the opposition and we had highlighted to the players what had happened in the senior game.
“But credit to our fellows, it’s just as easy to fold as it is to turn around and they showed great character in turning it around, but it was never comfortable for us.”
Ring admits that having quite a few senior players involved can make things difficult and he has seen a pattern develop in recent years in the grade.
“Waterford won the All-Ireland a few years ago after their seniors were gone. Limerick last season, it was the same, and now it’s Tipp, after their seniors being eliminated. That makes it a bit easier for them, but that’s not saying it’s impossible, or anything like that, because we have fantastic lads.
“We do feel it’s an advantage, that we know the lads very well, since minor days. We have great respect for them and I’d like to think they have for us, too.
“We communicate regularly with them, one to one, and I think they know what the stakes are. These guys are serious athletes, very committed, very honest.”
One way or the other, on Wednesday night, both teams will move into the All-Ireland series and Ring is an advocate of the new structure at that level.
“Yes, I think you are going to get a great All-Ireland campaign and whatever way it works out, you will have Cork and Tipp and Galway and Wexford.”