CORK hurling may have endured a turbulent enough winter but their next generation roared out a defiant message of intent with a 12-point demolition job of Tipperary at Páirc Uí Rinn last night.
Coming into the game much was expected, too much perhaps, of Tipperary's 2013 title aspirations under an impressive new management team.
A late Eoin Kelly goal may have spared their blushes but only just. Long term, last night's shock result may be no bad thing to temper expectations in the county.
In contrast, Cork had to ride out player defections, retirements and some turbulence within the backroom but what they produced on their home turf was sensational, especially scintillating exhibits from Daniel Kearney, Patrick Horgan, Chris Joyce and Cian McCarthy. It was a sign of their deadly intent that with 12 points between the sides and just three minutes left Patrick Horgan opted to go for goal.
But each player excelled in a game that was effectively over at the break as this young team, mostly bereft of underage All- Ireland medals and with only three hurlers over 25, delivered a text-book display to overwhelm their opponents.
The genesis of this display came from the Cork forwards — they harassed and harried their opponents. Anytime it did reach the Cork defence the Tipp boys were out-fought and hassled to the extent that they were forced to shoot hurriedly and inevitably, wide.
They began with a classy, sharp, crisp display with balls zigging everywhere. Anthony Nash took over from Donal Og Cusack, acted as a playmaker from defence and looked on as his teammates won almost every contest. Save for Donagh Maher and Paudie Maher, Tipp had little to offer around the defensive lines. The away side was beaten to every ball as a ravenous Rebel outfit exploded out of the blocks and produced an impeccable style of hurling, not exactly short passing but incorporating purely intelligent link-up play. By the end Jason Forde and Larry Corbett showed serious promise of better things to come but overall this was a humbling experience for the Premier County.
Although the game was totally one-sided before long, a sizeable crowd of around 6,381 was at least treated to a feisty opener with plenty of hard tackling and two yellow cards brandished by Barry Kelly in the opening minutes. A stream of frees from Patrick Horgan sent Cork into a commanding 0-5 – 0-1 lead as Cork, clearly with more hurling and fitness work behind them , put the foot to the floor and kept it there.
Tipp's only option was to lump it long to Brian O'Meara who worked hard but was left isolated more often than not.
Chris Joyce looked like he had owned the number six shirt for years. He was pulling to the wings demanding short puckouts from Nash and mopping up at every opportunity. After 13 minutes he fired an incredible point to put Cork 0-7 – 0-1 ahead.
Together with Daniel Kearney, Joyce was on fire. Tipp on the other hand were limp — they had five wides recorded before the first half ended, all of which were scoreable.
Eamon O'Shea replaced Johnny Ryan and Seamus Callan with Adrian Ryan and Corbett as another flow of points from Luke O'Farrell, Stephen Moylan, William Egan and Cian McCarthy put Cork 12 points up at the break.
Young Jason Forde was brought on at the break as Tipp racked up the yellow cards — they had four by the 37 th minute, but Cork ploughed on in ruthless fashion and extended their lead to 0-17 – 0-2.
Super scores from Corbett and Forde left 13 points in it with 20 minutes to go and when O'Meara went off Tipp finally stopped going the direct route. But the overall template of the game didn't alter much.
Cork did ease up a little but had their mark more than made by the game's ending.
Tipp face Kilkenny in a fortnight's time and it goes without saying that they can't countenance another display like this.
Still, it's early days. There are five full months between February and August which for any serious contender is when the season really kicks off.
For Cork, the danger is of peaking very early in the season.
Will they be so razor sharp at the business end of the season? For the moment Jimmy Barry-Murphy won't be one bit concerned about that — for him last night was the perfect opener after a tumultuous few months.
Scorers — Cork: P Horgan (0-13, 10f), D Kearney (0-3), S Moylan (0-2), C Joyce (0-1), L O'Farrell (0-1), L McLoughlin (0- 1), C McCarthy (0-1), W Egan (0-1), P O'Sullivan (0-1), C Lehane (0-1), M Walsh (0-1). Tipperary: J O'Dwyer (0-3), N McGrath (0-3f), E Kelly (1-0), J Forde (0- 2), L Corbett (0-2), A Ryan (0-1), Cork: A Nash, S O'Neill, S McDonnell, C O'Sullivan, S White, C Joyce, W Egan, D Kearney, L McLoughlin, P O'Sullivan, C McCarthy, C Lehane, S Moylan, L O'Farrell, P Horgan. Subs: T Kenny for D Kearney (60), M Walsh for L McLoughlin (62), A Mannix for L O'Farrell (66) Tipperary: B Cummins, P Stapleton, P Curran, C O'Brien, D Maher, Paudie Maher, B Maher, S McGrath, J Ryan, S Callanan, N McGrath, Patrick Maher, S Bourke, B O'Meara, J O'Dwyer. Subs: A Ryan for J Ryan (25), L Corbett for S Callanan (31), J Forde for Patrick Maher (h/t), E Kelly for B O'Meara (45), M Cahill for P Stapleton (60).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath)