IN the 54th minute of Sunday's game, Seamus Callanan finally sprinkled his magic across the Semple Stadium that Tipperary had expected from their chief sorcerer all afternoon.
His crossfield pass was arrowed into John McGrath’s hand as effectively as a killer-throw from New England Patriots quarter-back Tom Brady. It took out the entire Cork defence and McGrath lashed it past Anthony Nash.
Callanan turned around to the Ryan Stand and pumped his fist in the air. McGrath looked across the field and gave Callanan the thumbs up.
The score put Tipperary one point ahead. It looked like possibly being the detonation that Tipperary were craving to blow some distance between themselves and Cork.
Yet while Tipperary were basking in the warmth and class of the score, Conor Lehane had caught Nash’s puck-out and drove it over the bar for the equaliser.
From the next restart, Mark Coleman won possession and three slick stick-passes later, Shane Kingston pushed Cork back in front with another excellent score. It was almost the perfect metaphor for an absorbing and enthralling contest, and for Cork’s consistent and brilliant defiance all afternoon.
When Brendan Maher pushed the All-Ireland champions back in front again in the 65th minute, Lehane caught another Nash puck-out and scored again.
Cork were never on the ropes but anytime Tipperary landed a jab on their chin, Cork wound up and hit them straight into the face. This was all about Cork because nobody had expected it off them.
The locals on the ground expected a performance because their forwards were flying in training but they weren’t sure if their defence would hold out in a shoot-out. Cork did concede 1-26, which would lose most games, but Cork had stacked all their chips on going toe-to-toe with Tipperary’s firepower and it paid off.
Every Cork player played well. All their young guns were excellent, which rarely, if ever happens, with so many starting debutants.
Coleman was outstanding. Michael Breen did hit six points from play from the half-forward line but Mark Ellis was also excellent. He showed huge leadership but so did most of Cork’s main men, especially Lehane.
And once Cork turned on the afterburners, they scorched the Tipperary defence with their searing pace.
Tipp could have had three goals in the first half but tactically, Cork got it spot on in the second half. Conversely, it could be argued that Tipperary got it wrong in that period.
Their attack withdrew very deep, effectively leaving Seamus Callanan up top as the spearhead on his own. With the breeze, there is often a tendency to boom the ball long, which is what Tipperary mostly did, and which allowed Cork’s defenders to drop deep and sweep back in front of Callanan, and mop up everything that landed.
In that second half, Tipperary played 29 balls into their attack, and won just seven. Of the last 15 balls they played in, they won just two.
As a comparison, Cork won 14 of the 26 balls they played into their attack after the break.
When Tipp played more conventional in the first half, they looked far more dangerous, especially John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer. From seven first half plays, O’Dwyer had three scoring assists, had a hand in another point, scored one point from play and hit the post with another shot.
Yet after the break, O’Dwyer had just one single possession.
Callanan had to wait until the 18th minute of the second half to get his first possession, which he scored. He was brilliant minutes for McGrath’s goal, while he had another scoring assist in that second half, but Callanan only had four possessions after the break because he was being asked to do too much.
Tipp could argue that Callanan only had four possessions too in the first half (he was also fouled for a free without a possession) and Tipp still 0-15 in that period. Despite tweaking their formation up front, they still ended with 1-26 but their problems were at the other end because they were hemorrhaging scores all afternoon.
None of the Tipp defenders were ever comfortable. All of their full-back line was on yellow cards by half-time.
James Barry needlessly milled Lehane after 30 seconds but no matter how hard Tipperary tried to lasso the Midleton man, they couldn’t.
From 20 plays, Lehane scored five points from play, he won six puck-outs, while as well as being fouled for that free, he also had another scoring assist. His free-taking was excellent while he would have gone completely supernova if he hadn’t hit four wides and dropped another shot short.
It wasn’t just Lehane though, who was cutting loose because so were all the other Cork forwards.
From just 10 plays, Kingston hit 1-4 from play. From 14 plays, Seamus Harnedy scored two points but he had four scoring assists, including one for Kingston’s goal.
From just 10 plays, Alan Cadogan either scored or was involved in the creation of seven points. Luke Meade scored three points and had two assists.
From 12 plays, Patrick Horgan hit four points from play and had one assist.
Luke O’Farrell was busy when he came on while Michael Cahalane scored the decisive goal.
And yet one of Cork’s most important players was Nash, who was brilliant with his puck-outs, which was one of the most decisive battles of the afternoon.
Cork won that stat 40-26 but they won 18 of their own puck-outs, and 22 of Tipp’s.
Cork dominated Tipp in the air and on the deck. They outran Tipp but they also outworked them.
They were more aggressive. They had massive leaders on the day.
All of the above were legitimate questions about Cork going into the match.
But Cork emphatically answered them. And more.