Tipp face fight to avoid the drop, warns O'Shea
Early in the year for an autopsy, but the little dressing-room enclosure at Pairc Ui Rinn was washed in stark, operating-theatre light as Eamon O'Shea stood over Tipperary's slaughtered remains on Saturday night.
O'Shea is too wise a man to feign nonchalance where none is appropriate and his words carried an ominous breeze for the All-Ireland champions of 2010, run ragged here by a vibrant young Cork team that played as if to music.
"A lot of our players are five years on the go and we've got to come up with something different, it's quite clear," said the man whose coaching influence was considered the science behind Tipp's victory three years ago.
On a refrigerated evening, O'Shea talked of having "no excuses" for a performance in which his team were outscored by 0-17 to 0-2 in the opening 46 minutes. Indeed, he even insinuated the possibility of relegation into the dialogue, confessing: "We have an awful lot of work to do just to stay in this division, let's be honest about that."
Cork's touch, movement and competitive aggression had Tipp unsteady on their feet from the off. They played beautifully, their forwards inter-changing with impressive ease and all 14 outfield players creating a force-field of energy that palpably lethargic opponents had no answer to.
Tipp's misery was compounded near the end when – with their full complement of substitutes already deployed – they lost captain Shane McGrath to a suspected broken bone in his left hand.
For Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the night was a perfect rebuke of those inclined to read something sinister into the loss of dual players Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane to football and, indeed, the culling of Donal Og Cusack from his immediate plans.
Cork played coherent, intelligent hurling from Anthony Nash out, always having a free man available to collect short deliveries against opponents for whom the presence of Brian O'Meara on the edge of the square seemed to have the opposite effect.
Barry-Murphy's men dominated midfield too through Lorcan McLoughlin and the wonderful Daniel Kearney while, in Christopher Joyce, they look to have located a centre-back for the long haul. But nothing spoke more eloquently of Cork's performance than the communal work ethic.
As team selector Seanie McGrath observed: "We're only using the template that the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary have brought into hurling in the last couple of years.
"Traditionally, I suppose forwards wouldn't have been renowned for being great workers, but the likes of Kilkenny have shown that defence starts up in the corner-forward position really. We've been drilling that into them, particularly Ger (Cunningham) and Kieran (Kingston) on the coaching side, hooking and blocking, just putting fellas under terrible pressure, loads of support play.
"And thankfully tonight that was a really, really strong facet of our play. We really put them under savage pressure."
Tipp's difficulties were perfectly synopsised when league debutant Johnny Ryan was blocked down three times in a single first-half minute. The Drom & Inch player was eventually replaced after 26 minutes, and his clubmate Seamus Callanan made way for Lar Corbett six minutes later.
Noel McGrath had opened the scoring with a free inside 46 seconds but, remarkably, Tipp did not add to that tally until first-half injury time through a point from John O'Dwyer. By then, Cork had an impressive 14 scores taken, one remarkable 20-minute sequence producing nine in a row from play.
One of those points might have been a goal but for Brendan Cummins brilliantly deflecting a Luke O'Farrell rasper over his crossbar.
Cork would finish the night with 10 different scorers on the board, substitutions being made only when players had – in McGrath's words – "emptied the tank".
The introduction of Adrian Ryan helped Tipp find some kind of traction around the middle of the field, while the arrivals of Corbett, Jason Forde and Eoin Kelly brought conspicuous improvement to the attack.
Kelly produced a sublime 70th-minute finish for the only goal of the night, a score that bequeathed Tipp the tiny blessing of drawing the second half, having lost the opening 35 minutes 0-14 to 0-2.
For O'Shea, though, it offered scant solace.
"There was very little consolation," he said candidly. "They comprehensively outplayed us throughout the game. They were much better, much sharper, much more advanced than we were. We're trying to vary the game a bit and it's very early in the season yet, but we're absolutely disappointed.
"It's still the first game in the league and, sometimes, you get these results in the league. But I'm not taking away from their victory. They were outstanding tonight.
"I can't make any excuses. We're training normally. It's my job to figure out what went wrong and it's very hard to try and do that within half an hour of the game.
"But, quite clearly, we didn't perform. We weren't at the races and we know we have an awful lot of work to do."
Kilkenny are next on their radar and, for O'Shea, Tipp's priorities are already pared down to a single fundamental. Asked if he still hoped to reach the semi-finals, he responded flatly: "I'd like to win the next match!"
Save Cummins, Padraic Maher and the substitutes, Tipp had few men who could claim to have hurled to their potential in the freezing Cork air.
For Barry-Murphy, by contrast, there was hardly one who failed. The stand-out performers were Joyce, William Egan, Kearney, McLoughlin, Conor Lehane, Stephen Moylan, Paudie O'Sullivan and Pat Horgan.
They wore 'Mercy Foundation' jerseys on the night, yet showed little of that commodity to old, familiar foes. "A fantastic start," smiled McGrath later. "Hopefully, it'll set up the season for us."
Man of the Match: D Kearney (Cork)
SCORERS – Cork: P Horgan 0-13 (9f), D Kearney 0-3, L McLoughlin, S Moylan 0-2 each, C Joyce, W Egan, L O'Farrell, C Lehane, P O'Sullivan, M Walsh 0-1 each. Tipperary: J O'Dwyer, N McGrath (3f) 0-3 each, E Kelly 1-0, J Forde, L Corbett 0-2 each, A Ryan 0-1.
CORK – A Nash 7; S O'Neill 7, S McDonnell 7, C O'Sullivan 7; S White 7, C Joyce 8, W Egan 8; D Kearney 9, L McLoughlin 8; C McCarthy 7, P O'Sullivan 8, C Lehane 8; S Moylan 8, L O'Farrell 7, P Horgan 8. Subs: T Kenny for Kearney (60), M Walsh for McLoughlin (62), A Mannix for O'Farrell (66).
TIPPERARY – B Cummins 7; P Stapleton 6, P Curran 6, C O'Brien 6; D Maher 7, Padraic Maher 8, B Maher 7; S McGrath 7, J Ryan 5; N McGrath 6, J O'Dwyer 7, Patrick Maher 6; S Bourke 5, B O'Meara 5, S Callanan 5. Subs: A Ryan 7 for Ryan (26), L Corbett 7 for Callanan (32), J Forde 7 for Patrick Maher (h-t), E Kelly 7 for O'Meara (45), M Cahill for Stapleton (60).
Ref – B Kelly (Westmeath)