TOWARDS the end of the game in Thurles on Saturday evening Tipp goalkeeper Evan Comerford worked a short kickout to move the ball to a free player in the half-back area to turn and try and set up an attack down the middle of the field.
Within seconds Ruairi Deane had sprinted flat out the 30 metres to catch up, made a perfect tackle from behind to turn the ball over, moved the ball to another Cork jersey and the Tipp player stayed on the ground, jaded and broken.
It summed up the night. Cork were relentless here, never allowed Tipp settle into any rhythm and dictated the terms of the game with their aggressive and powerful hard running.
After an awful long time without an idea of what Cork football is about we got a glimpse of a team built on athleticism and workrate and attitude and that looked like a team who were willing to run all night and knew exactly why.
It was an arrival night for Ruairí Deane.
Last summer he was a massive influence in Cork’s comeback against Mayo with his ability to break lines.
Here he was simply immense, with a monstrous mix of physicality and hardiness that Tipp just couldn’t handle at all. He ran hard and often with and without the ball and always managed to either find gaps or make gaps to break tackles and open spaces for the rest of the Cork attack.
Cork’s first score came from a break down the centre past two defenders by Deane and a handpass to Luke Connolly to clip over and we counted six direct assists where Deane either gave the last pass to the scorer after a strong run or got hauled down for a free, as well at least another two or three scores where he was involved further back.
Tipp’s defenders may have woken Sunday morning with the back of Deane’s jersey imprinted in their heads. The legs and running power of Cork’s middle eight jumped out during the week and here they were exactly as advertised, dynamic and willing to run hard to constantly find spaces.
In addition to Deane’s six assists, there were five other points which came from Cork’s ability to run the ball into the scoring area. Tomás Clancy burst through to set up Connolly, an Aidan Walsh run for Connolly again, Sean White took a hit to set up a free, Stephen Cronin broke through a cluster of tackles to place Mark Collins.
Just when Tipp got a little run of scores, Ian Maguire made the hard run to support Deane (who else, we’d love a look at his GPS stats from the game) and again looked to commit the Tipp defender to get fouled for a vital free.
Maguire covered ground all night and moved the ball forward, Sean White constantly looked to be positive with the ball, is the most likely to kickpass from that area of the field and got forward for a good point. Cork just bossed the collisions in general with more purpose and rarely did anything defensively or with the ball that didn’t have a meaning.
There was cleverness and skills too to hit that 20-point scoring target.
Luke Connolly stepped up as main scorer and creative influence, bringing his form and influence from the club into intercounty.
He looked for the responsibility, always an option for the kickpass, constantly available for runners as they arrived into the scoring area and kept trying to make things happen with that lovely soft ball control and willingness to express himself – if it doesn’t work out every single time, Connolly needs to be given that freedom.
Here he kicked some wonderful points off right foot and left foot, from distance and close in and set up the goal too with that ability to recognise the chance and go for it.
Colm O’Neill didn’t get on much ball, got blocked for a shot when the chance did come and it looked like the game might pass him by. Then he had the awareness of danger and where to run into space and ruthlessness to ping the game-changing goal.
That’s what Colm O’Neill does. Mark Collins kicked three points from play. Brian Hurley got on and kicked a score right at the end.
It felt like proper kudos for Ronan McCarthy. If this Tipp game was put forward as a defining part of Cork’s year we got a serious answer here.
The manager himself had referenced a consistent performance base and this was as proactive and purposeful a performance as Cork have put together for some time.
Cork just looked the more controlled team in the basics of cutting off spaces in defence and opening spaces in attack.
Apart from an opening quarter where Tipp’s inside-forward line looked a little dangerous one-v-one, Cork were defensively sound.
They were aggressive in contact, closed off the spaces for Tipp’s forwards all game with bodies – one blockdown by Kevin Crowley early on set the tone - Stephen Cronin drifted across the defensive area very effectively to shut down any Cork players getting isolated.
Tipp ran out of ideas very early and that Quinlivan-Sweeney-McGrath danger zone got just two scores from play.
Mark White made two one-v-one saves when needed and by the way, his kickouts were far more composed and sound than anyone could expect from a rookie.
More than anything it just had the look of a Cork team with more conviction and belief in itself than we’ve seen for an age, where the basics of intent and willingness to run hard with high energy can be an effective starting point and gameplan.
Nothing was won here but something has been started and that’s enough for now.