THE U20s' comeback against Tipp in Thurles was one of the sweetest Cork hurling wins in a while.
There was every excuse for Pat Ryan's side to fall short.
With the delayed All-Ireland final from last year only taking place 10 days earlier, preparation was far from ideal. Key forwards Brian Hayes and Jack Cahalane were on dual duty last week with the footballers.
The Premier were at home, and after an extra-time victory over Waterford, had the benefit of a game under their belts to tweak the line-up; Devon Ryan came into the starting 15 and proved very hard to handle in the first half. Cork had some talented young stickmen available but a new GAA rule meant Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly couldn't feature, having come on for the seniors earlier this month.
Despite lancing over a couple of lovely early scores through Pádraig Power and Ciarán Joyce, Cork were flat for much of the opening 30-odd minutes. Tipp seemed to be getting the 50-50 calls from the ref and were certainly more clinical with their chances. They punished a defensive error to bury a goal and 1-13 to 0-10 up at half-time were in a commanding position.
Crucially, Cork got five points without reply at the outset of the second half: incredible work by Robbie Cotter kept the sliotar alive to set up Hayes, Power won possession when he'd no right to before splitting the posts, Cotter landed a gem of his own, a clean fetch by Dáire O'Leary was turned into another Hayes score, Power turned over possession and punished Tipp.
The work-rate improved noticeably in all sectors, while O'Leary settled into the full-back role, having operated at wing-back for last year's team, and Joyce began replicating his dominant displays from last season at centre-back. They hounded the Premier in possession and forced them into hitting wides or churning the ball in the middle third.
Committing bodies to the centre, opened up space inside for Cork to plunder goals. They cleverly bypassed Tipp centre-back Kevin Maher, excellent in the opening period.
When Daniel Hogan batted in a Brian O'Sullivan sideline to give Cork a 1-15 to 1-14 lead, the momentum had swung irreversibly away from the hosts. Still, the key score was Robbie Cotter's goal, just before the second water break. Neither team had raised a flag is six tense minutes. Sam Quirke, the official TG4 Man of the Match, delivered the perfect long pass but the finish was lethal.
It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Tipp, having watched their seniors collapse in the Munster final against Limerick.
Pat Ryan and his selectors deserve credit because they made two major changes when Cork had wrestled the initiative, replacing big guns Jack Cahalane and Darragh Flynn with Ben Cunningham, Ger's son and just out of minor, and Luke Horgan, from the Glen. In the fourth quarter, they'd hit 1-3 between them.
Cork did get one vital decision when leading by four points, Sean Hayes went down and the shouts went up for a penalty. But the free count overall was very much in Tipp's favour so they can't have any complaints with the officiating.
Soon after Luke Horgan sealed the deal with the third goal, before sub Conor O'Leary, from the tightest of angles, and Ben Cunningham, franked it with two more points.
#UpTheVillage @BallincolligGAA https://t.co/iFrvX2Xfn5— Éamonn Murphy (@EamonnMurphy19) July 20, 2021
Eoin Downey, Kevin Moynihan and Ethan Twomey hurled a lot of ball in that second half. Cotter ran Quirke close for MVP.
Limerick on Wednesday night will be a tougher test again, even in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The Shannonsiders made short work of Clare in their semi-final, with Adam English, the 2020 Minor Hurler of the Year, senior panellists Cathal O'Neill and Colin Coughlan, and full-forward Aidan O'Connor all on song.
In stark contrast, they only made two, in 2011 and 2014, in the preceding 10 seasons.