New stars and Croker experience give Cork edge
Published 16/08/2014 | 02:30
Waterford, Clare and Limerick have been beaten, leaving Tipperary as the final bulwark against Cork's attempt to impose complete dominance in Munster this year.
If the Rebels achieve the historic four-timer, it will complete a golden three months and set them up for an All-Ireland final clash with Kilkenny. It's a real possibility but, as with most great prizes, having it snatched away would be stark and painful.
Frankly, the satisfaction of winning the Munster title for the first time since 2006 will lose most of its thrill for Cork if Tipp supplant them as the province's best in the All-Ireland race. That brings its own pressures, but then Tipp have them too.
Losing to Limerick for a second successive year darkened Tipp's mood and while they navigated their way to the All-Ireland semi-final with wins over Galway, Offaly and Dublin, they still can't be quite sure if they are ready for what will undoubtedly be a step up in class.
With question marks over both defences and lots of quality in the two attacks, the likelihood is that this will be a high-scoring shoot-out, decided on the tightest of margins. Seamus Callanan, John O'Dwyer and Lar Corbett have been Tipp's top hit men, countered by Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan.
The improvement in Tipp's game since the six-point win over Galway has been sizeable, convincing their supporters that everything is falling into place at exactly the right time. And yet, the defensive uncertainty remains an issue.
Michael Cahill's absence is a big loss, especially against Cadogan, who is having a fine debut season. The Dublin forwards never tested Tipp but Galway hit them for 4-12 in the opening 50 minutes before drying up completely. Was that down to improvements in the Tipp defence of another example of Galway's on-going eccentricity?
Cork will provide the answer fairly quickly. After a sluggish start in the Munster final, they hit Limerick for 2-24, 11 points more than Kilkenny scored last Sunday. The different conditions have to be taken into account but it was still a very high return by Cork against a Limerick defence that restricted Tipp to 2-16 in the Munster semi-final.
A notable feature of Cork's play this year has been their ability to make the most of their chances. That was significant against Limerick in the first half when they stayed in touch over the first 20 minutes off limited possession.
Cadogan, Mark Ellis and dual star Aidan Walsh have greatly strengthened Cork this year and having gained so much Croke Park experience last year, they are perfectly positioned for the challenge. Not that Tipp are short of Croke Park experience either, including an All-Ireland win in 2010 when nine of tomorrow's starting 15 featured.
This clash has all the ingredients to deliver a classic contest, full of inventive hurling, fascinating individual match-ups and non-stop intensity.
Cork -A Nash; S O'Neill, D Cahalane, S McDonnell; C Joyce, M Ellis, L McLoughlin; D Kearney, A Walsh; C Lehane, B Cooper, S Harnedy; A Cadogan, P Cronin, P Horgan.
Tipperary - D Gleeson; C Barrett, Paudie Maher, P Stapleton; B Maher, J Barry, K Bergin; S McGrath, J Woodlock; G Ryan, Patrick Maher, John O'Dwyer; N McGrath, S Callanan, L Corbett.
Ref - J Owens (Wexford)