THE goal that sealed Cork’s magnificent victory after a pulsating old-school helter-skelter Munster championship classic, came courtesy of Michael Cahalane’s timing and clinical finish.
The delivery was from Darragh Fitzgibbon, one of the five new faces. They deserve the headlines this week, as does Conor Lehane who was the spearhead at centre-forward in an explosive Rebel attack.
Yet the green flag originated at the other end of the field after a dangerous delivery looped towards Seamus Callanan and Damien Cahalane. Tipp, in the second period particularly, tried to isolate their marquee attacker on the Barrs’ full-back.
Callanan was held to 0-2 from play and a gem of an assist for John McGrath’s goal, but down 1-25 to 1-24, he was still the obvious outlet for a Tipp equaliser. Instead Cahalane horsed the number 14 out of it.
The sliotar was swept away by Mark Coleman, the star rookie in a new-look line-up that brought the precocious confidence of youth and blinding pace to the side that struggled for an identity in recent years. The sequence yielded the crisp goal with Cahalane’s first championship touch.
Up four points, Cork weren’t going to be beaten at that juncture. Tipp nabbed a couple of late scores to hint at a draw, but the Rebel half-back of Coleman, Mark Ellis and Chris Joyce held off an aerial bombardment and Luke O’Farrell and Seamus Harnedy split the posts to put the sizeable Cork contingent in a crowd of 30,103 in dreamland.
Harnedy arrowed over the final point, after Patrick Horgan picked him out delightfully down the flank, turned and leapt into the air to fist-pump the Ryan Stand. He might as well have shouted ‘Cork are back!’
Everything about the day, the performance, the buzz in Thurles afterwards suggested as much. Within the camp, nobody will get carried away. Waterford, who vanquished Cork twice in 2015 in Thurles, await in the Munster semi-final.
Looking at the bigger picture there’s a massive Munster minor semi at the end of June in Thurles to ensure they hurl into July and a provincial decider for the first time since 2008. The U21s, four of whom started yesterday, have a direct link to the seniors through John Meyler, and should have a right rattle off that Munster crown, which hasn’t been won since 2007.
Senior is where it’s at though for the average Cork fan and they lapped this one up. For the faithful this was a glorious victory, one of the most badly-needed in the modern era. They swarmed the pitch afterwards and soaked up the feeling of taking down Tipp on their own patch, a first in championship for 12 years.
Michael Cahalane who was told by doctors after graduating from minor that he would never be able to hurl again returned last year to drive Bandon to a county and was one of the last to head to the dressing room. Posing for photos, signing hurleys and just savouring an occasion he thought would never come.
Ballinora National School tweeted on the final whistle that all the pupils had homework off today. Brilliant!
A couple of hundred waited for an hour outside the bus to salute the Rebels with a cause. Mark Coleman made his way onboard with a sheepish grin in contrast to the style he’d hurled with. You could tell Nash, Cadogan and co were damn satisfied to have proved they belong with the elite.
We’re often very critical of the Rebels in these pages – and the results this decade make it hard not to be – but they’ve been absolutely slated nationally. Jackie Tyrell ripped into Cork in his Irish Times column last Friday, Tom Ryan followed up in Saturday’s Daily Mail.
They won’t admit it, because they’ve prepared diligently for the Munster quarter-final since last winter and have tried to focus on their own strengths, but the older players were thrilled to silence the naysayers.
The newcomers were like superheroes, they all showed the cockiness of Peter Parker when he pulls on Spiderman’s mask. Cork need that. Arrogance is a trademark.
Coleman set up a point after dropping the ball as he’d run out of room and catches, picking it up again and clipping it to crossfield to Horgan. He grasped a puck-out from his knees.
Kingston spent a lot of the game holding off the might of Pádraic Maher and ended up with 1-4.
Colm Spillane climbed into the clouds to pull down three Tipp puck-outs and didn’t give John McGrath an inch (his goal was down to Callanan’s genius). In the air Cork were the best they’ve been for years, winning a staggering 14 more puck-outs than their rivals.
Darragh Fitzgibbon looked too light and wiry for a bulky Premier midfield and within seconds of throw-in was dancing through challenges. Luke Meade is another rakish young gun and fired over 0-3; like Kingston he wasn’t intimidated by the Mahers’ physicality.
There was no real pressure on the five rookies, but there was a hell of lot weighing on the shoulders of the veterans. McDonnell, Cahalane, Joyce and Ellis were seen as the defensive weak-links. Lehane, Harnedy, Cadogan and Horgan, especially, were viewed as flaky, top of the ground forwards. Soft, basically.
Horgan was dropped for a couple of league games and Lehane took over as chief free-taker. It was tough love from Kieran Kingston and his selectors but it paid off. The Glen man wasn’t prominent early on but he went about his business and finished with four points.
The players deserve the plaudits in the Echo and everywhere today and there’s enough experience from the 2013 All-Ireland and ’14 Munster final to ensure this isn’t a false dawn.
The management have been outstanding this season in rebooting the team: Kingston, selectors Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Pat Hartnett, Pat Ryan and Meyler. Gary Keegan as the high-performance consultant has got their heads right. The likes of Donal O’Mahony, Sean O’Donnell and the backroom are clearly doing massive unseen work.
Yet why be satisfied with one fine day? Why should Cork defer to the likes of Waterford or Clare?
The Rebels have a platform to kick on. Here’s to a long, hot summer.