BEFORE last Sunday’s example of bouncebackability in Walsh Park, there loomed an appalling vista for the coming weekend.
Had Cork not kick-started their championship campaign with victory over Waterford, they would have been eliminated from contention and so would Tipperary. It would have made for the dampest of squibs in FBD Semple Stadium this weekend, two bald men fighting over the flimsiest of combs.
The GAA and Munster Council were worried enough that the oneills.com All-Ireland U20 hurling final between Limerick and Kilkenny was slotted in as a curtain-raiser to ensure an attendance of some substance. Even now, it’s unlikely to be a sell-out but the two protagonists have something to play for – the draw between Clare and Limerick ensured that Tipp still retained a chance of progressing.
Since the provincial championships changed to a round-robin format for 2018, Cork have played three games in Thurles, winning one, drawing one and losing one – unfortunately for those seeking positive omens, the win was against Waterford, who couldn’t play their home games in Walsh Park in that first year.
Also in 2018, a nine-point Cork lead was whittled down as Tipp came back to draw, while the third encounter there was this year, the ‘home’ loss to Clare. However, a decade and a half ago, Cork also played a round-robin game in Thurles, though that too ended unsuccessfully.
Before Galway moved to Leinster, one of the All-Ireland qualifier formats involved two groups of four and, after early Munster losses, Cork and Tipp were paired together, along with Offaly and Dublin.
Having each beaten the two other two counties, the ‘old firm’ clashed in the final match with both assured of qualification for the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Though Cork led by 0-8 to 0-3 early in the first half against a Tipp side that was without Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly, Willie Ryan’s goal helped the hosts to trail by just a point, 0-12 to 1-8, by half-time.
Benny Dunne’s point and a second Ryan goal turned the game Tipp’s way early in the second half and they triumphed by 2-16 to 1-18. It set up a quarter-final clash with Wexford while Cork faced Waterford but it was ultimately academic as both south-east sides prevailed to qualify for the last four.
It was Tipp’s first championship win over Cork since the 1991 Munster final and it set in train a period of dominance for them – between then and Cork’s win in 2017 in Thurles, Tipp won six of seven clashes between the counties.
Daniel Kearney was everywhere, chipping in with two points, while captain Séamus Harnedy had three. In the midst of all of that, Tipp should have had a goal but Anthony Nash saved brilliantly from Patrick Maher but the goalkeeper could do nothing to stop Jason Forde soon after that. Points from Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath and Patrick Maher left just one in it all of a sudden, but Cork reeled off five points in a row, Kingston with two, and after Noel McGrath’s point, Kingston struck for a Cork goal, firing home from a narrow angle.
By half-time, Cork were 1-15 to 1-6 ahead, but Tipp – with John O’Dwyer on for them – responded strongly at the outset of the second half, putting together five points in a row, three from Forde with the McGrath brothers getting one each. Horgan ended Cork’s drought with a free after he had been fouled himself and Conor Lehane got on the scoresheet after Luke Meade had blocked down a Séamus Kennedy clearance.
When the next four points were shared, Cork looked to have settled again, but a good Tipp move ended in a second goal, O’Dwyer and Forde feeding Noel McGrath for a good low finish across Nash. Bill Cooper moved Cork four in front again but Tipp had points from Forde (65), O’Dwyer and John McGrath (two) and the home side were level by the 60th minute.
Harnedy and Kingston (two) gave Cork a cushion again, with Nash saving brilliantly to deny O’Dwyer but Forde and John McGrath gave Tipp hope and sub Jake Morris popped up with the leveller, 2-20 to 1-23 the final score.
Another draw on Sunday would be no good for either county – Cork will hope to build on the good work of last week.