Wednesday 18 October 2017

Tipp silence critics in style


JOHN O'BRIEN in Semple Stadium

A POINT of interest. Before yesterday, Tipperary had not managed a championship victory against Cork since the heady days of 1991, four years after Babs Keating first arrived to resurrect his stricken county.

Count them: 16 years and if their failure to beat Cork in that time hardly constituted the mythical famine of those depressing years the starkness of it is an illustration of how low the county's fortunes have sunk.

Yesterday in front of a crowd of 15,000 or so, Tipp and Cork served up a breathless encounter that more than did justice to one of Irish sport's greatest rivalries and, in surging to a narrow badly-needed victory, Tipp gave their supporters a cause for celebrations the like of which they have not experienced since they were last among the game's aristocracy in 2001.

It will have mattered to them so much more, not simply because it banished Cork to an All-Ireland quarter-final against Waterford, but because few gave them an earthly chance of even providing a test for their opponents yesterday.

As the rain started to pour the news came that an already stretched team would be without the beefy John Carroll who offered hope of at least unsettling Cork's formidable half-back line and, worse, Eoin Kelly had failed to shrug off the effects of the groin injury he suffered in Parnell Park a week earlier. For Tipp it screamed nothing but bad portents ahead.

Their problems seemed glaring right from the opening exchanges. Their patched up midfield of Hugh Maloney and Séamus Butler were combative and their backs hurled fiercely, but their problems farther up the field looked chronic. Against the calibre of backs that Cork can call on, Tipperary's forward line looked incapable of getting their hands on any ball at all.

For all the passion they had exhibited, Tipperary had only managed two points by the 17th minute. And when you considered that both scores had come from long-range efforts from their two midfielders, the scale of their problems was easy to gauge. Finally Benny Dunne stole through the middle and a Tipp forward had his name on the scoresheet.

At that point Cork, hurling smoothly and fluently, led by 0-7 to 0-3 and chilling thoughts of annihilation must have coursed through the minds of the home supporters. On an evening when Joe Deane couldn't find his scoring touch and the likes of Ben O'Connor and the Sarsfields' Kieran Murphy found it hard to make an impact, the worst scenario for Tipperary was that Cork would still be able to laugh off such flaws.

Remarkably the complexion of the game changed in the 22nd minute. Tipperary have been without a target man since the championship started and Michael Webster showed how grievously he has been missed. The lanky full-forward rose high to meet an Eamonn Corcoran delivery and beat Diarmuid O'Sullivan to the ball before finding Willie Ryan free inside. As Donal Óg Cusack came menacingly towards him, Ryan was cute enough to turn inside and crash the ball to the net.

Suddenly Tipperary were on fire. For the rest of the half the teams traded scores, but the momentum and the fluency was gradually seeping Tipp's way. In the final 10 minutes before the interval Lar Corbett fired over three beautiful points that will have left his confidence soaring and just as the whistle arrived Webster claimed another high ball and Cork were at full stretch to keep their net from bulging once more.

A point behind at half-time was a happy return for Tipp and a fitting reward for the passion and increasing confidence they had displayed. And it was no surprise perhaps when, within four minutes of the restart, Tipperary surged ahead with another well taken goal by Ryan. Jerry O'Connor, as polished and consistent as ever, responded immediately with his fourth point but with their noses in front Tipp sensed blood and went for the kill.

A two-minute spell brought scores from Corbett, Maloney, Ryan and Daragh Hickey and Tipp, to the delirious incredulity of their supporters, had a five-point lead. Then Ryan made it six with another free and Tipp had 20 minutes to hold on with a decent cushion. They looked confident enough to pull it off.

But Cork weren't finished. Greg Kennedy did well to deflect a goal-bound shot from Deane over the bar but, with 10 minutes remaining, the Tipp 'keeper had no chance when Neil Ronan rose high to expertly deflect Deane's high lob to the net. Tipp's lead had been whittled down to one and their nerves were jangling.

The final exchanges were of scrappy but epic proportions. Carroll, on as sub, stretched Tipp's lead to two but a Deane free nearing injury time brought it back to the minimum. It would have been cruel on Tipp if they couldn't hang on but they scraped home and their breathless and heroic summer took an unexpected turn for the better.

Nobody, least of all their own, will write off Babs Keating's charges again.

SCORERS - Cork: N Ronan 1-2, J O'Connor 0-4, J Deane 0-5 (4f), K Murphy (Erin's Own) 0-2, P Cronin 0-2, B O'Connor 0-1, K Murphy (Sarsfields) 0-1, K Hartnett 0-1. Tipperary: W Ryan 2-2 (0-2f), L Corbett 0-4 (1f), B Dunne 0-3, H Maloney 0-2, S Butler 0-2, D Hickey 0-1, D Egan 0-1, J Caroll 0-1

Cork: D Óg Cusack; S Murphy, D O'Sullivan, C O'Connor; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Óg Ó hAilpín; K Hartnett, J O'Connor; K Murphy, B O'Connor, P Cronin; N Ronan, K Murphy, J Deane. Subs: B Murphy for C O'Connor (ht), T Kenny for K Murphy (49), T McCarthy for Hartnett (49), C Naughton for K Murphy (54)

Tipperary: G Kennedy; E Buckley, D Fanning, A Byrne; E Corcoran, C O'Mahony, S Maher; H Maloney, S Butler; D Hickey, B Dunne, F Devanney; L Corbett, M Webster, W Ryan. Subs: J Carroll for Devanney (45), D Egan for Webster (46), S McGrath for Hickey (60), P Bourke for Ryan (69)

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