The huge positive for Cork was that after a wild second half they survived the scrap

The huge positive for Cork was that after a wild second half they survived the scrap
Tipeprary's Sean O'Brien, Michael Cahill, Semaus Kennedy and Padraic Maher tackle Pat Horgan of Cork. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

THERE were still 15 minutes remaining in Sunday’s game in Thurles when Michael Duignan effectively summed up the match on his TV co-commentary.

“I don’t remember a game that has changed so much,” said Duignan. “Cork were so dominant. And now Tipp are so dominant.”

It was an elongated way of describing it as a game of two halves, but Duignan had already nailed it, even with over a quarter of an hour still to play. Cork were devastating in the first half. Tipp were irresistible after the break.

The cynics and the hard-line critics would hammer Cork for not twisting the knife into Tipp’s heart when they had driven it through their ribcage. Developing that absolute killer instinct is another level this Cork team still needs to find if they are to win an All-Ireland, but momentum can be difficult to halt when it turns to such an extreme.

And searching through the detritus of Sunday’s crash, Cork still showed enough mental resolve to avoid it being a total wreckage. In some ways, it was a decent salvation operation because when the ship hit the rocks, Cork made sure that it didn’t go down.

Tipeprary's John McGrath and Sean O'Donoghue of Cork. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Tipeprary's John McGrath and Sean O'Donoghue of Cork. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

When John McGrath levelled the match in the 60th minute, there only looked like being one winner. Tipp had all the energy and confidence. They were on a roll, but Cork completely arrested that momentum and generated their own. Between the 60th and 67th minute, they made 39 plays to Tipp’s 18. They edged three points in front. They didn’t close the game out, but Cork still only made three less plays than Tipperary in the final six minutes.

And it took everything Tipperary had to get a result.

Tipperary restructured their team in the second half, but their big guns grabbed the game by the throat. Padraic and Brendan Maher made a combined 23 plays in the period.

The McGrath brothers, Noel and John, were outstanding, making 24 plays in the second half. John McGrath was devastating from 13 plays, scoring five points from play, having a big hand in another point, while his late body-hit on Seán O’Donoghue eked out the opportunity for Jake Morris to land the equaliser.

McGrath’s scoring and assists numbers were excellent in just 35 minutes, but his body-language, drive and desire were a metaphor for Tipperary’s second-half transformation; in the first half, McGrath had managed just three plays.

Tipp made all the big tackles and big hits in the second half, but they couldn’t lay a glove on Cork in the opening half because they couldn’t get near them.

The fact that there were only four scoreable frees awarded in that half underlined the type of game it was, and how much it suited Cork. With Cork’s pace, of feet and hand, Tipp couldn’t engage them in the tight. And Cork racked them on the scoreboard.

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The half-time lead was nine points. It could, and should, have been 14.

Despite all the firepower Tipp have, and which this team has long had, their bottom line against Cork over the last five years has always been basic; don’t engage Cork in a total shootout; because there will be only one winner.

When Tipp met Cork in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final, they had shot the lights out against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final. They hit 1-28 in the drawn All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, but their thinking was clear and precise for Cork; make it a war first; and then go and win the game late on. And Cork couldn’t live with that reality.

When Tipp condensed their defence in the second half on Sunday, created more space in their attack, and made it more of a war, it was a completely different game. In the first half, the Cork forwards made 48 plays; in the second half, Cork’s forwards made 27 plays.

After winning 17 of 27 balls played into their attack in the first half, Cork won just eight out of 18 after the break. Cork created just 16 scoring chances in the second half, the exact same number which Tipp managed in the first half.

Tipeprary's goalkeeper Brian Hogan celebrates a point. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Tipeprary's goalkeeper Brian Hogan celebrates a point. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Cork were tearing Tipp apart with their pace, movement and intelligent use of possession but much of their first-half dominance also stemmed from the grip they had on the Tipp puckout. They won 15 Tipp puckouts in that period, including 11 in a row before the break.

Cork were reaping a huge dividend too from that possession. On three successive long puckouts from Brian Hogan between the 22nd and 24th minutes, Cork mined two points and should have had a third, which dropped short into Hogan’s hand. Overall, Cork won 41 puckouts, which is another indicator of how the team is evolving, and improving in that area.

Cork had some devastating contributions, especially in the first half. From just five plays in the opening 10 minutes, Seamus Harnedy scored three points, set up another and was fouled for a converted free. From nine first-half plays, Shane Kingston scored 1-3.

Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Daniel Kearney also continued his excellent form, and workrate, before running out of gas; from 20 plays, Kearney scored four points from play, set up another, while he also denied Brendan Maher a probable point with a hook. Darragh Fitzgibbon had another excellent match, which included four assists.

And Anthony Nash underlined his class once more, with three excellent saves.

The wind, and wet conditions after the break, may have been a factor – it always is during a dogfight — but winning those dogfights is just as much a priority as developing that killer instinct if Cork are to win an All-Ireland.

And yet Cork will still take the positives from this result. They were bitten, scraped, torn and badly scratched in the second half.

But they still survived the scrap.

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