WHILE winning the McGrath Cup wouldn't have been high on Cork's list of priorities, their elimination by Tipperary at Pairc Uí Rinn last Sunday didn't go down too well with team boss Conor Counihan.
MCGRATH CUP QUARTER-FINAL
CORK 1-9 TIPPERARY 2-9
Hoping for an extended run in the competition in order to run the rule over as many fringe players as possible prior to the commencement of the NFL, Counihan admitted the result was a setback in that regard, adding that the performance left quite a bit to be desired on the day.
"There is no point in pretending we weren't disappointed with the manner of the defeat, but to be fair to Tipperary they worked harder and were a bit smarter than us, and they got the goals at crucial times in the second half.
"The goals left us with an uphill battle, but some of our lads will be very disappointed in relation to the decisions they made, resulting in the ball being given away numerous times, particularly in the first half," Counihan remarked.
As expected, the Cork line-out showed a number of changes from the team that started in the win over CIT the previous weekend, and it contained just six players involved in last year's championship campaign. But Tipperary also fielded an experimental side, with the visitors likewise including six of the team that enjoyed a good run in the qualifiers last year before bowing out to Down prior to the All Ireland quarter-finals.
Not surprisingly, Tipp manager Peter Creedon described it as an encouraging performance, making the point that some of the younger players showed up quite well.
"We weren't too bothered about the McGrath Cup at the start of the year, we just said we'd mix up the Under 21s with the senior panel and see how we'd go.
"We are delighted to get what we wanted out of today's game, we obviously learned a few things, but, having said that, Cork kicked a lot of wides, and the goal from a penalty gave us a bit of breathing space again after they came at us strongly early in the second half," stated Creedon.
Even allowing for the fact that Cork clocked up 13 wides to Tipp's three over the 70 minutes, and could justifiably contend it was a questionable decision by the referee that led to the concession of a goal from a penalty, there could be no disputing the better team won the match. Much quicker to settle, Tipp produced the more purposeful and assured football overall, and they certainly weren't flattered to finish the first half 0-7 to 0-4 to the good.
While Cork held their own territorially before the break, they struggled to make headway up front where only Donncha O'Connor measured up, and even he didn't have things all his own way against tenacious Tipp full-back Paddy Codd. Alan O'Connor and particularly Andrew O'Sullivan kept their end up well at midfield, while such as Damien Cahalane, Eoin Cadogan and Michael Shields made a few probing runs from the back, but Tipp, getting bodies behind the ball in numbers, generally coped well with Cork's disjointed efforts to penetrate.
As well as that, Tipp moved the ball from defence to attack with admirable fluency and precision, with lively centre forward Liam McGrath and roaming corner-forward Barry Grogan leading the charge as their attack carved out the openings with greater ease. For the second half, Cork introduced Pearse O'Neill on the '40, with Ciaran Sheehan going from there to full-forward in place of Donncha O'Connor, while Aidan Walsh and Paul Kerrigan were drafted into the wing forward berths to the exclusion of newcomers James Fitzpatrick and Odhran Mulrooney.
In addition, Damien Cahalane was moved from left corner back to the right wing in a switch with Michael Shields, and the reshuffle appeared to give the team a new lease of life. Within two minutes of the resumption, Cork had cut the gap to the minimum, courtesy of Liam Shorten and Sheehan, who, fed by Andrew O'Sullivan, landed an inspirational score from the left wing.
The Rebels were rocked back on their heels three minutes later, however, when, after a blatant push on corner back John McLoughlin was ignored by the referee, Tipp's Philip Austin was deemed to be fouled in the ensuing play, resulting in a penalty that was clinically dispatched by Barry Grogan.
That marked the game's turning point as Tipp regained their composure, and, after Barry O'Driscoll fluffed a chance to rekindle Cork's hopes, shooting straight at 'keeper Paul Fitzgerald when clean through, wing forward Bill Maher bagged a second goal to make it 2-8 to 0-6 and effectively settle the issue in the 47th. minute. With Damien Cahalane regularly catching the eye at wing-back, Cork managed to apply the bulk of the pressure in the closing stages, but again they struggled to find a way through Tipp's massed defence until Ciaran Sheehan goaled in stoppage time.
Afterwards Conor Counihan, no doubt mindful of what happened in last year's All-Ireland semi final against Donegal, acknowledged it's a problem Cork are going to have to learn to deal with in the future.
"It's something we are going to be facing in further games this season, but the reality is we made a lot of basic errors on the ball today. It wasn't just down to the newer fellas, some of whom acquitted themselves quite well I thought, because a few of the more experienced fellas will also be disappointed with the options they took when in possession at times.
"But I don't want to take anything away from Tipperary, they were very workmanlike, they had a good method about them, and they were full value for their win," he conceded.
Scorers Tipperary: B Grogan 1-6, 1-0 penalty, 0-4 frees, B Maher 1-0, P Quirke 0-2 frees, P Austin 0-1 Cork: C Sheehan 1-1, D O'Connor 0-3, 0-1 free, L Shorten and F Goold, frees, 0-2 each, B O'Driscoll 0-1 free TIPPERARY: P Fitzgerald, A Morrissey, P Codd, J Coghlan, A Campbell, S Kennedy, J O'Callaghan, G Hannigan, S O'Brien, P Austin, L McGrath, A Matassa, B Maher, P Quirke, B Grogan Subs: L Egan for Campbell, B Jones for Matassa, B O'Brien for Austin (injured), D Lynch for O'Callaghan CORK: K O'Halloran (Bishopstown), J McLoughlin (Kanturk), E Cadogan (Douglas), D Cahalane (Castlehaven), M Shields (St Finbarr's), B Shanahan (Carbery Rangers), N O'Leary (Kilnamartyra), A O'Connor (St Colum's), A O'Sullivan (Castletownbere), J Fitzpatrick (Carbery Rangers), C Sheehan (Eire Og), O Mulrooney (Douglas), B O'Driscoll (Nemo Rangers), D O'Connor (Ballydesmond), L Shorten (Ballingeary) Subs: P O'Neill (Aghada) for D O'Connor, A Walsh (Kanturk) for Fitzpatrick, P Kerrigan (Nemo Rangers) for Mulrooney, F Goold (Macroom) for O'Driscoll, S Kiely (do.) for O'Leary REFEREE: S Joy (Kerry)