Tuesday 24 April 2018

Rebels look safer bet in U21 final

Cork's John O'Rourke. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Cork's John O'Rourke. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Noel Horgan

BIDDING to win an eighth title in ten seasons, Cork won't need to be told that Tipperary will pose a serious threat to their ambitions in next Wednesday evening's Munster Under 21 football final at Thurles.

Over the past three years, Tipp have a better record than Cork at minor level, completing the two-in-a- row in Munster last season, having ousted the Rebels, 1-10 to 0-9, at the semi-final stage. In 2011 they finished 3-11 to 1-9 to the good against Cork in the provincial decider, and 12 months earlier they were decidedly unlucky to go under in a Munster semi final at Thurles, with a last-gasp goal earning Cork the laurels back then

Tipp lifted the All-Ireland minor crown in 2011, and, with the bulk of that team eligible again, it was no surprise that they remained the kingpins in Munster last year. A Munster Under 21 triumph in 2010 provides further evidence of how Tipperary's fortunes at under-age level in football have taken a remarkable turn for the better in recent years, and the players donning the Blue and Gold next Wednesday night certainly won't be intimidated by the task of taking on Cork.

They possess the confidence and self-belief that stems from a winning habit, and, while Tipp have disappointed in the u-21 grade over the past two years, it would be reasonable to assume they might now have matured sufficiently to be able to replicate their heroics at minor level on a higher stage. They were convincing winners, 1-12 to 0-7, over Clare in the semi-final when they had about nine of the 2011 All-Ireland winning minor side on board, including such accomplished attackers as Liam McGrath, Michael Quinlivan, Bill Maher and Stephen O'Brien.

Tipp previously clashed with Cork two years ago when they were on the receiving end of a 12-point drubbing, 0-21 to 2-3, at Pairc Uí Rinn. Cork later thrashed Kerry to the tune of 2-24 to 0-8 in the Munster final with a team that included five players - Damien Cahalane (Castlehaven), Tomas Clancy (Clonakilty), Alan Cronin (Nemo Rangers), John O'Rourke (Carbery Rangers) and Jamie Wall (Kilbrittain) – who were just out of minor ranks.

They had it much tougher against Kerry in Tralee last year, but, with the vast majority of the 2012 squad available again, they were regarded as the team that would all the beating at the start of the current campaign. Little has happened in the meantime to suggest they aren't capable of completing the treble, even if they were forced to rely on a last-gasp point from substitute Sean Kiely of Ballincollig to get over Kerry, 0-14 to 2-7, in the opening round.

They were clearly the better team over the hour, and they could have been out of sight at half time had they not conceded two goals against the run of the play in the first half. They did come under pressure in the last quarter, and they were very relieved to survive in the end, but, viewing the game overall, it would have been rough justice had there been a different outcome.

Predictably, they made light work of dispatching Limerick, 2-14 to 0-11, in the semi final, but they will be facing a much stiffer test against Tipp, and they could be made to pay the price should they go into the game harbouring any feelings of complacency.

With home advantage, Tipp will believe they are in with every chance, but Cork are the team with the proven credentials at this level, and, for that reason, not to mention the immense potential carried by such as O'Rourke, Brian Hurley (Castlehaven), Dan McEoin (Ilen Rovers) and Luke Connolly (Nemo Rangers) in attack, they look the safer bet to prevail.