CORK left Semple Stadium last night knowing they’re capable of playing a hell of a lot better in Monday's replay, but crucially that they’re not short bottle.
They were dead and buried more than once in Thurles. Robert Downey – with the laser accuracy of Iron Man – rifled over a pair of levellers deep into stoppage time at the end of normal time. If that wasn’t heroic enough Evan Sheehan stitched a goal from a free in the 83rd minute with almost the last puck of extra time.
Sheehan had only been re-introduced after an off-key display saw him replaced in the second half, which made his finish, after Brian Turnbull was hauled back, even gutsier. Turnbull hit 0-4 from play, set up Diarmuid Lenihan’s point and was fouled for 1-3. He was by some distance Cork’s most lethal weapon but credit to his team-mates for hitting him in space with some classy deliveries.
The towering Downey set up a couple of scores as well as landing those two key efforts himself, while Brian Roche and Liam O’Shea had their moments. Overall though the front six need to up a few gears Monday. Declan Hanlon may start and he nabbed a point and looked dangerous after coming off the bench.
Daire Connery, the heartbeat of the U17 side that landed a Munster title recently, was a ball of energy again, clipping over two points from play and nailing some pressure frees. Even if he shone, Tipp were strong on the breaks in the middle third, with Paddy Caddell firing three points.
That the Rebels weren’t seen off in normal time was down to the tenacity of the defence, which held Tipp to just one point in the closing 23 minutes of normal time. Granted some sloppy shooting, particularly from frees, let Cork off the hook, but then there was plenty of chances spurned at the other end too.
Seán O’Leary-Hayes and James Keating were powerhouses at three and six – before switching – while Conor O’Callaghan was outstanding at attacking the long deliveries from his corner-back berth. Eoin Roche and Ger Millerick grew into the game and Aaron Walsh-Barry was solid on his introduction.
Ger Collins was generally good between the posts, though he did spill a point-attempt in extra time from which Tipp plundered their second goal. Cork mixed long and short puck-outs throughout – understandable as Tipp were undoubtedly better in the air – but a more direct route might be more profitable Monday night in Páirc Uí Rinn.
That said it would be foolish to lamp possession into areas where the Premier have an obvious advantage in height and strength. Cork looked a little lighter than their opponents, even if this group had got the better of their rivals all the way up from U14 in tournaments.
Minor is a step up. In terms of pressure, physicality and pace. What’s certain is these youngsters might the guaranteed two extra games reaching the provincial final brings and it would be particularly important for them to taste the atmosphere at a packed Semple and beyond that Croker.
Will Denis Ring and his management team make any major adjustments for Monday?
Given the time-frame, you’d imagine they won’t tinker. It’ll be a case of trusting these talented players to hurl to the max, which they couldn’t at times last night.
Will that be enough? It’s impossible to call the replay. Home advantage and the greater scope for improvement might swing it for Cork to set up a clash against Clare on Sunday week. It would be a long-overdue victory, given the county’s nine-year absence from the Munster minor final.
Cork’s 32nd Munster title arrived in 2008 when Ciarán Sheehan, Aidan Walsh and Mark Collins were dual stars. Whatever about the failure to add to that total since, especially as Limerick, Waterford and Clare have become far more competitive, the Rebels’ inability to even make the provincial final summed up the county’s demise.
Tipp were Munster minor kingpins in 2012, ‘15-’16, Clare back-to-back winners in 2010-’11, Waterford on top in 2009 – with the 2013 All-Ireland through the backdoor – with Limerick lifting the crown in 2013 and ’14. Cork weren’t invited to the Munster final party.
In 2009 Cork drew with Tipp 5-17 apiece in the Páirc before crashing to a 2-21 to 1-12 loss in a replay where John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer top-scored.
In 2010 Cork pulled off a 2-31 to 4-22 victory on Leeside after extra-time in an insane shootout where Conor Lehane landed 0-6 and Bud Harnett 1-14 against a Premier team featuring Dan McCormack, Seamus Kennedy, Niall O’Meara and Jason Forde. Neither side made the Munster final though, Tony Kelly and Podge Collins’ Clare defeating Pauric Mahony’s Waterford on that occasion.
Tipp brushed the Rebels aside in 2011, despite the efforts of Alan Cadogan, Colm Spillane and Darren Sweetnam (remember him!), but the counties didn’t meet again for four seasons until last year’s intriguing clash at Páirc Uí Rinn when Cork were outmuscled in the second half.
They can avoid that fate this Monday.