John Horgan on the key battles that will decide Cork and Tipp

Hurlers looked the business in blitzing Waterford but the Premier will be a step up again
John Horgan on the key battles that will decide Cork and Tipp

Cork's Darragh Fitzgibbon is tackled by Waterford's Darragh Lyons during the Allianz Division 1A NHL game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

GIVEN the rich history between both counties, any meeting, irrespective of the game’s status, between Cork and Tipperary generates that extra little bit of interest.

In the two games between the teams last season, it was a victory for each of them, Cork taking the league points, but Tipperary biting back to secure the far-more-important victory in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

Now, there is another installment between the two of them, tomorrow night in Semple Stadium, and it should provide us with a little more information about the direction and, ultimately, the destination, both will travel this season.

Cork will be coming in on the back of a fine win over Waterford, last Sunday, while Tipperary will have been satisfied with their return from the Gaelic Grounds the previous night, when the point that they bagged prevented Limerick from continuing their recent dominance of meetings between the counties.

So, that sets this Thurles clash up very nicely, with Cork hoping to to add another few building blocks to the foundation that they laid against Waterford.

The scoring returns from the two sides were starkly contrasting last weekend, Cork banging in five goals and rifling over 22 points, in their win, while Tipp didn’t manage any green flags in their 20-points-apiece draw with the All-Ireland champions.

Cork delivered 5-10 from open play in their 70 minutes, while Tipperary managed just eight points and did not score from play in the second half.

Of course, one should never read too much into the opening day of any season and every game is different.

The lack of goal-scoring opportunities was a feature of the Tipp-and-Limerick game.

One can recall just the one such opportunity in the entire game when Nicky Quaid was alert to a shot from Jake Morris. Then again, a team can go on and win an All-Ireland without registering a goal-scoring return of any great significance.

Given the body language of both managers last Saturday night, Liam Sheedy was more fired up than John Kiely and Tipp seemed to want it that bit more. And they looked to be on their way to the win until Kiely went to his bench and brought in Cian Lynch, Gearoid Hegarty, and Peter Casey.

Tipp started without the McGraths, Noel and Shane, Padraic Maher and Mark Kehoe, but Limerick’s strength in depth was more influential. Have no doubt, Tipp will be up for Cork’s visit again and the starting 15 is likely to contain a few more of the old guard.

Darren O'Connell of Limerick in action against Barry Heffernan of Tipperary last weekend. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Darren O'Connell of Limerick in action against Barry Heffernan of Tipperary last weekend. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Sheedy will certainly look for a greater return from his starting six forwards, certainly more than just eight points from open play. A return of anything like the tally Cork secured against Waterford is unlikely from them this time, but they will enter the game with that all-important momentum.

It’s unlikely that there will be much change to the side, although the management might want to find out how one or two more of their newcomers fare in the environment of Semple Stadium. Cork did allow Waterford to come to within four points of them, as the game aged after they had built up a lead of nine or 10 points.

They were outscored 0-6 to 0-1 at a time when the game seemed to be over and that might be a slight concern.

But the manner with which they finished out the 70 minutes was hugely impressive and the subs certainly worked the oracle.

Shane Kingston’s pace and cutting edge were very evident, while Alan Connolly will have benefited enormously from his brace of goals.

Niall O’Leary, Tim O’Mahony, and Mark Coleman will want to take up from where they left off last Sunday and there was plenty of protection offered to Patrick Collins in goal.

Besides a much more positive campaign than we have seen in recent leagues, Kieran Kingston will want more intensity for starting places come the championship.

That’s what has made Limerick so successful: The fierce competition for places, with every player under pressure to hold his starting place.

Fifteen, 16, or 17 players no longer win the big pieces of silverware; now, you need anything up to 22 or 23 to be in serious contention, when the team-selection debate begins.

Cork, in the past, seemed content to take the points, but against Waterford there was more awareness that goals were needed and will be needed, to make that difference.

If a goal is a strong possibility, then you have to go all out to nail it. Cork conceded 1-27 last Sunday and that might be too much on another day, but the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.

The league will be quickly forgotten once the championship bell is rung, but it will be important to have a nice bit of momentum, and a few decent wins under the belt when that happens.

A win over Tipperary at any time boosts confidence, all the more so for younger players.

This will be a far more serious examination of Cork’s credentials and we should certainly be that bit wiser at the end of the 70 minutes.

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