WELL, they got there in the end.
The Cork-Kerry Munster final to mark the opening of the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh will take place next month. The Rebels, just about, deserved to see off a Tipp side that would have won if Michael Quinlivan didn’t hobble off with an injury at the end of the first quarter.
Their other marquee forward Conor Sweeney was the most dangerous on show, landing four lovely points from play and the late goal that looked like it would be enough for the Premier to record back-to-back victories over the neighbours. Had Quinlivan been alongside his partner in crime, or even using his size and strength in midfield against the wind, Cork would have been off to the qualifiers and the provincial final would be taking place in Thurles.
Peadar Healy’s management struck the wrong note from the off with their negativity. There were four changes from the obvious dummy team named on Friday night. It’s farcical that a Cork football are so fearful of Tipp they can’t reveal their hand with an accurate starting 15.
Worse their tactic was to sit back, even with the breeze, and allow Tipp play short kick-outs. Bizarre.
Even in the wake of getting the result Cork football desperately needed, no one will be too confident ahead of an Old Firm Munster final. We all remember the nightmare that was the last one in the Páirc back in 2014.
There were a few positives from a Leeside perspective, though not enough to suggest there’s much of a chance of an upset against the Kingdom. All we can hope is they carry the second-half momentum into the next round, show more of a sense of adventure and give it a rattle.
Two of the younger players Kevin Crowley and Ian Maguire stepped up to the plate when it mattered, with Crowley tenacious at the back and Maguire compensating for the absence of Alan O’Connor and Aidan Walsh. U21 graduates Michael Hurley and Gary Murphy didn’t shirk responsibility.
Cork got a big lift for the second half by bringing on a host of subs, most notably Mark Collins – who surely should be a guaranteed starter – and livewire Seán Powter. Paul Kerrigan was off-key with his first-half shooting, but his three second-half points were invaluable. Luke Connolly was at the end of a slick move to flick home the decisive goal to go with his two points and with his confidence up he might be more clinical against Kerry.
Cork will need to be. They host 16 wides and another two off target were called back for frees.
The opening half was without question one of the worst displays off all time by any Cork football team. One score, in the third minute, two very scoreable goal chances wasted and a total of eight wides, some of them appalling efforts. And all with a gale-force wind.
There was a complete lack of direction, belief, leadership and bottle across a shambolic 40 minutes, including the additional time for the injury to Quinlivan. The use of James Loughrey as a sweeper didn’t really pay off considering Tipp still eked out four points from play, while also wasting 10 chances – seven wides and three into Ken O’Halloran’s hands.
Luke Connolly looked the part in the early stages, moving and showing well for possession inside the 45 and curling over a marvellous point. Yes, he blazed a couple of disappointing wides but he roared to the fore after half-time.
It’s hard to predict how Cork will line up against Kerry, given their inconsistency on Saturday, but Connolly will at the heart of the attack.
It was a damning indictment of Cork football that one of the two members of the U21 outfit that reached the All-Ireland final in 2016 to start, Peter Kelleher, was whipped off before the break. He was replaced by 36-year-old Donncha O’Connor. O’Connor is one of the top-scoring and most consistent Rebel forwards we’ve seen, but where were the gifted young guns that helped the county dominate in Munster at U21 level this decade?
Sitting on the bench for the most part.
Powter came on at half-time and his energy and direct running certainly livened up the Rebels. His introduction signalled a more direct approach. Putting him into the team against Kerry is a must.
As is a team performance of character and verve that will consign the first half at Páirc Uí Rinn and the tepid effort in Dungarvan to the history books.