WHILE there’s no denying Cork and Tipp is still a classic hurling rivalry, it’s not a very balanced one these days.
That’s summed up by the fact Pádraic Maher has only lost a single championship game to the old enemy since he joined the senior ranks, and that defeat – in 2010 – was followed by a Premier All-Ireland triumph via the qualifiers. Cork didn’t even manage to replace Tipperary as Munster champions back then, losing the provincial title to Waterford in a replay.
The Rebels have pulled off league wins, in 2012, 2013 and two months ago, but not when it matters. Maher though is adamant the edge hasn’t gone off Cork-Tipp.
“I can only speak for myself and I suppose for my teammates, that we really look forward to playing Cork. I suppose we’re looking at the tradition over the years. When we put on the Tipperary jersey in Thurles in front of the Cork supporters and Tipp supporters, we’re as proud looking forward to playing Cork as we are any other championship match.
“I suppose there’s a great history there. We are told at home as well about Tipp and Cork. If you don’t try and put in your all against Cork you’ll know all about it too. We know the challenge.
“Last year Cork didn’t put in the performance against us in the first round that they would have liked. I’ve no doubt that will be changed this year.”
Cork will take heart from their league victory in the closing game of the round robin series which assured a berth in the knock-out stages, even if Tipperary were already through. Maher argues complacency wasn’t the cause of Tipp’s loss in Páirc Uí Rinn and won’t be an issue this Sunday.
Cork were very fit, plenty of energy and athleticism and their hurling was top class. It showed, if anything, that if they get a bit of a run on you they can destroy you.They should have bet us by more, I know it was only a point that day, but we were only chasing our tails.
“We always have to be wary of them. They’ve had fantastic hurlers down through the years, great players. And we admire and respect them greatly. Tipp and Cork, first round of the Munster Championship, it’s great. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to ever since the league finished up.”
There has been an injection of youth into the Rebels lately, Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, Mark Coleman, Colm Spillane, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Michael Cahalane all getting significant game-time over the spring.
“I’ve seen a few of them, Luke Meade playing with Mary I, I’m seen a nice bit of them. They are bringing great energy to it. It’s similar to when we were coming in ‘09 and ‘10, a bust of five or six younger players.
“It brings a new dimension to it. It’s after making their panel very strong. A lot of youth, but they have that bit of experience too.”
Maher, who is now a Garda based at Henry Street in Limerick, may end up facing Kingston or Meade this weekend, or a more established foe like Conor Lehane or Bill Cooper. The Tipp captain explains he generally focuses on minding his own patch rather than specific opponents.
“The game is changing. You have to be prepared. You could be named at seven but you could end up at six or five depending. You could be given a job to mark someone or it’s just the way the game goes, players could be running every direction. Or you might be marking a player that will stand and fight his ground with you.
“You have to be mentally able to adapt and show that versatility. A lot of our players are comfortable in lots of different positions and you have to be.”
Tipp were hot favourites to retain their Munster and All-Ireland titles only a few months ago, but a league final capitulation to Galway has many now questioning if they have the hunger and depth to stay on top. What went wrong at the Gaelic Grounds?
“Everything went wrong, to be honest with you. From the very beginning you knew Galway were going to be more prepared than us on the field. We were trying to pull ourselves back into that game, but it wasn’t happening for us at all.
“That was my fourth league final and I’ve lost them all now. It’s very disappointing. And it makes it twice as bad that we didn’t even put in any kind of a performance.
“Not even any player could put their hand up and say ‘I done my bit’. That’s very disappointing and I suppose it’s something to keep us in tune for championship.”
Galway managed to keep a lid on Tipp’s vaunted half-back unit of the Mahers and UCC student Seamus Kennedy in the league final.
“Some people might target different areas of the field. That’s something you just have to take. If you’re targeting one or two of our players, it’s an opportunity for maybe another player to say ‘I can take this over’. Teams look at other teams different ways. There’s a lot of tactics involved now, depending on who you’re playing.
“At the end of the day we just like to go out and hurl and try and do our best. I can’t say that Gaway had too much tactics against us. They were just far sharper than us and much more intense on the day and deserved to win.”
After the wake-up call, they’ll surely be going all out to restore their reputation against Cork, as well as moving into a clash with Waterford.
“I’d prefer not to get any wake-up calls and get the wins if you can at all. If you’re going to say a wake-up call, you’d rather get in the league, I suppose, than the championship. But at the end of the day, it’s a national title and another one gone by the wayside for us.
“You can’t brush it under the carpet either. You have to take your learnings from it.
This is another challenge now against Cork and we’re concentrating on them now.”