Honesty of effort with a dash of classy football made McCarthy's Rebels a joy to watch

Honesty of effort with a dash of classy football made McCarthy's Rebels a joy to watch
Brian Hurley celebrates after the Tipp win. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

LUKE CONNOLLY deserves the plaudits for his series of majestic first-half points, and for setting up Colm O’Neill’s goal, which laid the platform for victory at Semple Stadium.

Connolly is capable of moments of genuine artistry as he showed when firing Nemo to the All-Ireland club final and he carried that form into the Cork geansaí on Saturday night. His scores from play were as classy as any you’d see from Conor McManus or Paul Geaney.

Luke Connolly on the ball. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Luke Connolly on the ball. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

If the Munster semi-final had been televised, you can be sure Connolly’s haul of 0-10 including frees could have seen him get the official Man of the Match. The provincial final will be worth watching for his presence alone.

However, Cork got the result they desperately needed against the Premier by going back to basics. They were tough and organised in defence, led by Jamie O’Sullivan and Stephen Cronin.

That restricted Tipp’s attacking trio of Michael Quinlivan, Liam McGrath, and Conor Sweeney to 0-3 from play. Ronan McCarthy and his selectors had them drilled to defend as a unit and they forced turnovers by hunting in packs.

Tipperary's Liam Boland with Aidan Walsh. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Tipperary's Liam Boland with Aidan Walsh. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

The midfield — aided by the booming kick-outs of rookie keeper Mark White — of Aidan Walsh and Ian Maguire, often flanked by Mark Collins and Ruairí Deane, grabbed more than a fair share of primary possession. When they drove at the Tipp backs, it was at full-tilt with Seán White and Tomás Clancy raiding from the wing-back berths in support.

Admittedly, Cork could have conceded two first-half goals when White was forced into action, but after a cagey opening 20 minutes, they upped the gears and their goal was coming before O’Neill rattled the net to give them a firm grip.

Despite a sticky 15-minute second-half spell when Cork squandered some decent opportunities and Tipp trimmed the gap to five points, McCarthy’s charges never looked like losing. Perhaps because they had to play a week earlier against Waterford, Tipp were flat, but conversely Cork hit all the right notes.

Brian Fox under pressure from Seán White. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Brian Fox under pressure from Seán White. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

They got a significant return from the bench, two points from Paul Kerrigan and a score from the comeback kid Brian Hurley — to the loudest cheer from the sparse but enthusiastic crowd of 3,339. Debutant Ronan O’Toole and Peter Kelleher added a bit of muscle to the middle third in the closing stages and Cork were full value for such a resounding win. 

The only downside was the loss of O'Neill to injury. Again. A cruel blow.

No-one epitomised the attitude and commitment of Cork than Bantry’s Deane. Wearing the number 12 geansaí, he covered acres and consistently broke tackles which led to points and a couple of fouls for Connolly frees. Even when he appeared spent in added time he made one last lung-bursting surge to dispossess a Tipp defender.

He explained there was no secret to Cork’s excellence, just honesty on the training ground which transferred to Thurles.

“Training is always going to be the same, it’s how you apply yourself at training and on the day that counts and we had that.

“Something we’re looking for as a group is consistency of performance.

“This was the first step on the ladder this year so we’ll have to knuckle down again now for the Munster final.”

Noel O’Leary, Nemo’s Ephie Fitzgerald, Conor Counihan, last year’s U17 captain Blake Murphy and his father John Paul, a former Cork junior and St Vincent’s stalwart, ex-Cork U21 Carthach Keane and ladies football ace Bríd Stack were among the faithful to witness what we hope is the first step of a Rebel renaissance.

Only the hardcore made the journey up to Semple for a tie that clashed with the Champions League final.

“The people that were up here are those you really want to see after a game, your family and friends, the people you give your tickets to. It was the same after the Mayo game last year. If everyone else turns out after, great, but the crowd win nothing for you, it’s the group of players that have to put the performance in.”

Like the rest of us, Deane took great joy in seeing Brian Hurley back in action.

“He’s applied himself something savage, put unreal work in, so for him to get back was a great story.

“He’d two full years out of it and it was almost exactly 12 months ago he started his last rehab. I know what it’s like with injuries, you have setbacks in a sporting career and hopefully he can really drive on now again for the next few years.”

Which is exactly what Cork football needs to do as well.

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