SUNDAY: Munster semi-final: Cork v Tipperary, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.15pm.
FOUR weeks ago, the prospect of Cork playing Tipperary in a Munster semi-final wasn’t the most appealing of fixtures.
Cork had played Tipp in their opening group league fixture in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in mid-May, winning 3-14 to 0-16.
The game as a challenge was over long before that, with Tipp finishing strongly with five points on the bounce to bring a more respectable finish to the game.
A short few weeks ago Tipperary looked like they had so much work to do, any serious challenge to the top three of Kilkenny, Galway, and Cork seemingly just a dream.
But their performance against Kilkenny in the league semi-final was like looking at a different side. The confidence with which they played in Nowlan Park certainly made me sit up.
Their physicality was impressive. They look like they spent the entire winter working on their strength and conditioning and it only suddenly displayed itself.
They beat Kilkenny easily in the 50/50 battles, in the opening half in particular, and they dragged Kilkenny all over the field.
Cait Devane and Clodagh McIntyre played a two-player full-forward line and Devane ran riot in the open space.
They competently managed Kilkenny’s tendency to run at goal by smothering them as Tipp were spreading more and picking off points from distance.
Despite Kilkenny attacking the game with all they had in the second half, Tipp were keeping a steady distance. What was disappointing for them was that they led by five with under 10 minutes remaining and lost the game.
It was a hard pill to swallow but another lesson learned.
Manager Bill Mullaney was obviously hugely disappointed after the game but acknowledged the strides his team were making.
“I can’t find too much fault with anything around the field,” Mullaney said. “They gave everything, they committed to everything, they ran at everything, they worked at everything, from the no 1 all the way up to no 15 and the players that came in as well. Absolutely tremendous stuff.
“I thought we were impressive going forward. We put up 19 scores. And not to come away … we might have made a couple of mistakes but who doesn’t? We just got punished for them and that was the difference in the end.
“If I was to be honest I would say we were the better team over 60 minutes, but we didn’t get the result. And that often happens in hurling or camogie.
“That’s the love-hate relationship with the game. Today now, we’re on the hatred side of it, that we didn’t get the result. We are sickened, we’re gutted and devastated but we’re here.
“There’s no such thing as hard-luck anymore. You’ve to make your own luck and we didn’t. That’s it.
“We’re experienced now. We’ve been around. We’re improving. We have to improve another small bit and keep going but it’s in us. I think if we get one, we’ll get a few, but it’s getting that one.
“I think last year if we’d got to play the final (Tipp had qualified before the league was cancelled due to Covid), even if we’d lost it, it would have crowned us, and we’d have turned another corner.
“But our ladies today were absolutely fabulous. They left everything on the field. And if you lose after leaving everything on the field, you can’t complain.
“The belief is there. They’ll be devasted for a week but they’re all athletes, they know the give and take of this, and they’ll get back around themselves.”
I think Tipp need a really strong performance against Cork on Sunday and I hope they bring it to the table, not just for themselves but Cork could do with another tough game.
Paudie Murray spoke before their league semi-final against Galway that they were playing the best team in the country. Well, Kilkenny put paid to that thought last weekend after a thrilling second-half display.
That puts Cork in third position for the championship, a place they won’t worry about too much at this juncture in the season but with a weakish championship group, despite analysts building them up, Sunday is a game they’ll want a real test from with championship throwing in the weekend of July 17.
Cork have yet to settle on a starting championship 15 with two or three positions still up for grabs.
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