Vincent Hogan: 'You have to prove it on the field and I think the character of the boys came out today' -- Corbett
Published 25/06/2012 | 05:00
Emancipation from that striped tyrant in the east may be harder to secure, but Tipperary have begun to cultivate a spirit that keeps the tremulous flame alive.
The smile reaching across Declan Ryan's face in Cork yesterday was like a sun coming up after months of military grey. Tipp has become the European capital for scandalised gossip in recent weeks, the players supposedly chopping up Commandments like firewood.
Yet, Ryan marshalled a defiant kick from them against Limerick and he summoned a pretty impressive reprise here. For Cork, young and bold, were everything Jimmy Barry-Murphy could have asked them to be after the Sorrowful Mysteries of the league final. But Tipp, even when depleted, looked a team.
"I think these guys have been questioned sometimes about their commitment and ability, but they showed today what they are about," said the Clonoulty man. "They take a lot of pride in wearing the blue and gold and I think that game will stand us in great stead as the year goes on."
It was a wonderful contest, albeit no-one could be entirely sure what that signified.
Cork-Tipp will always have its own relevance, but it's a moot point if it extends to anything beyond a local curiosity now. Kilkenny's shadow questions everything. Hurling has a job on its hands to sell the journey to September as anything but a long, dilatory process before Eoin Larkin lifts the MacCarthy Cup.
A championship summer is never that simple of course, but you could sit in Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday and find yourself wondering exactly where the Munster Championship will sit in our thoughts at season's end.
Tipp next meet Waterford, the team they buried in a shallow grave last summer. Even now, Lar Corbett's 4-4 that day sits in history as a barely comprehensible haul.
Lar got one clear glimpse of goal yesterday, but sensibly off-loaded to Noel McGrath.
The prodigal son explained: "Whatever percentage chance I had of scoring, Noel had a higher percentage. We saw that with Kilkenny against Dublin, the man in the best position always gets the ball. That's really what we're striving towards.
"Look, we've had two great tests. One thing that this team has -- we've showed it over the last number of years -- is character. And it's slowly but surely coming out of us again."
The game had a frenetic pulse, scoreboard digits spinning like dials on a fruit machine. In the first half especially, virtually every sequence of play drew the umpires to a flag. There was a breathlessness to it all, a sense of two teams being chased by unseen vipers in the grass.
Patrick 'Bonner' Maher was, by a distance, the best man on the park, but he seems to see himself strictly as a bellboy at the service of others. Time and again, 'Bonner' chose to offload in the face of a decent scoring opportunity. It was baffling.
Both sides had goals disallowed too and both were inclined to query different instances of the advantage rule being played. But it can't be easy a contest that careers forward like a runaway train.
For Barry-Murphy, defeat to Tipp in the championship was a taste never previously suffered. He proved, as ever, innately wise in the business of finding an appropriate perspective.
"Look my playing career was a long time ago," he smiled. "It's of no relevance now really. I'm just very disappointed for the players, but I couldn't be more proud of them, because the league final was a debacle for all of us. A learning experience, both for the players and us on the line.
"We took the major share of the blame for the league final because we felt we hadn't prepared the players properly for the challenge that Kilkenny would give.
"We were sleep-walking into that final a small bit. So I'm absolutely thrilled with the response of the players today. We're never happy to lose but, coming back from that league final defeat, I think they were fantastic today.
"But, look, we've a long way to go to be anywhere near as good as Kilkenny or Tipperary. It's a hard learning process."
The free-taking of Patrick Horgan and Pa Bourke reached a kind of stalemate of excellence. But Tipp's threat from play just carried a little greater breadth, as perhaps evidenced by the presence of Corbett, Eoin Kelly, Shane Bourke and Seamus Callanan on the bench.
Yet Cork had 22 minutes with the benefit of an extra-man after John O'Brien's departure. And they squandered a sequence of late opportunities that maybe spoke of a callowness that, at this level, gets punished without pity.
Cian McCarthy had a shocking late wide and Barry-Murphy then seemed to wheel away in exasperation when Jamie Coughlan put a sideline 'cut' left and dead in added time.
Tipp, by now, were being reminded of old failings and how the history of this place runs against them. This would be just their second Championship win over Cork in Cork since the 1920s.
"To get out of here today with a win is a huge achievement," agreed Ryan. "We all know Tipp's record here against Cork hasn't been great over the last 70 or 80 years. But I'm sure Waterford will be coming for us with all guns blazing now."
Cork's devastation was articulated well by Horgan.
"Whoever got the goal was going to win," he sighed. "We're disgusted. But we're just going to have to go training again next week and put it behind us. We showed there we can play with anyone. We were flying. But they got a break, got the goal and that was it.
"We'll just have to put this out of our heads and drive on again."
Up in the old committee room, its walls lined with pictures of Cork legends, Corbett held court in the precise spot he stood last year after putting Waterford to the sword.
Asked about Tipp's togetherness, he shrugged. "We can talk about it in training, we can talk about it in the dressing-room. But you have to prove it on the field and I think the character of the boys came out on that field today. Down in Cork, against Cork, going down to 14 men ... that just goes to show the character of this team."
Yes, Lar, but is everyone playing for silver? "We have to believe, we have to believe" he repeated, eyes ablaze. "That's it. And we really do."