Wednesday 12 December 2018

Forde fires Premier as Rebels are left to fight drop

Tipperary 1-24 Cork 1-21 - Allianz HL Div 1a

Cork’s Bill Cooper hooks Tipperary’s Patrick Maher in Thurles yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork’s Bill Cooper hooks Tipperary’s Patrick Maher in Thurles yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

March hurling incubates a small world of gentle deceits, so Tipperary weren't inclined to trumpet their arrival into a National League quarter-final here as the safe negotiation of any forbiddingly high mountain pass.

Still, it wasn't quite calculated indifference either that they brought to this Thurles forensic, having huffed and puffed a little before squeezing old Munster rivals, Cork, towards the colder landscape of a relegation play-off. Tipp play Dublin next Sunday and, with almost 30 players having seen action already in this league, Michael Ryan's winter has been educational.

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

His team leaked 20 wides here, yet looked to be rolling towards an emphatic victory when Billy McCarthy's spectacular 55th-minute goal eased them seven points clear.

McCarthy is better known as a midfielder with Thurles Sarsfields, but the way he torqued away from Tim O'Mahony before rasping a fine finish off his left-side suggested Ryan might have unearthed a viable, new alternative for action on the '40'.

Terrific

Tipp should really have closed the game out from there, yet ended up in a lather of fire-fighting instead, requiring a mighty fetch from team captain Pádraic Maher as well as a fine catch from debutant goalkeeper Brian Hogan in the dying flurries to survive Cork's courageous late surge.

John Meyler's men actually took the last four scores of the game, albeit only terrific second-half goalkeeping from Anthony Nash, saving well from both Michael Breen and Sean Curran, allowed them keep a hold on Tipp's collar.

Brendan Maher of Tipperary in action against Conor Lehane of Cork. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Maher of Tipperary in action against Conor Lehane of Cork. Photo: Sportsfile

It made for a breathless finish, home supporters in a 6,733 attendance left mildly bemused by how a game that always looked in Tipp's control could gather such late heat and uncertainty.

And yet that remarkable wide tally meant Tipp had summoned 45 efforts on the Cork goal, not an entirely unimpressive stat given the ongoing absences through injury of forwards Seamus Callanan, John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, Dan McCormack and - a new addition - Noel McGrath.

Yet again, Jason Forde stepped impressively into the breach with a personal return of 0-12, five of those scores coming from play, four off Colm Spillane in a hugely impressive first half. There was also evidence of Patrick 'Bonner' Maher benefiting palpably from a full pre-season, his physical power troubling the Cork half-backs as he opted for a ruinous safari between wings.

Ryan would have found encouragement too in the threat carried by Curran and Breen and the latest evidence of Cathal Barrett as a maverick midfield option, while Alan Flynn did his summer chances little harm with a fine outing at corner-back.

For Ryan then, this league is shining a light in precisely the places he said it would.

"We're where we wanted to be after five rounds" stressed the Upperchurch man.

"Division 1A is a roller-coaster, but it's a really good early-season competition for us all. But from now on, I think the competition really starts. Every game we play is knockout and we want to progress as far as we can."

From the outset, it had the feel of an old-fashioned shoot-out: no use of sweepers, no bow to the modern tactical strait-jacket of supplemented defence.

Cork got off to a flier inside eight minutes, Patrick Horgan firing a penalty past Hogan after Alan Cadogan had been floored in the 'square' by a blue and gold posse after getting a great hand on Bill Cooper's high delivery. Cadogan would be a handful all day for Donagh Maher and that goal put the Rebels 1-2 to 0-3 ahead. Yet, Tipp responded impressively with an unanswered necklace of four points inside the next three minutes.

And that pretty much set the tenor of the contest. Every punch Cork threw, Tipp seemed capable of responding with two counters.

They led 0-15 to 1-9 at the midpoint but, having had the benefit of a significant wind blowing towards the Killinan goal, but it looked a fragile enough advantage. By then, they'd already leaked 11 of those wides, Cork now scenting opportunity in Tipp's carelessness.

Heavily

Trouble was, they were leaning too heavily on Horgan's free-taking for scores, Meyler seeing fit to replace both midfielders and two of his half-forward line before the conclusion.

Not untypically, the Maher brothers - Pádraic and Ronan - offered a formidable physical presence at the harbour-mouth to Tipp's goal, only Cadogan really summoning the faintest suggestion of a genuine goal threat inside.

With eight minutes of normal time remaining, Tipp led 1-24 to 1-17 and looked well-set for the quarter-finals. But they did not a summon a score in the remainder, Luke Meade, Cadogan, Horgan (a free) and Daniel Kearney all notching points for Cork.

Horgan and Darragh Fitzgibbon subsequently hit poor wides too and only those aerial interventions of Pádraic Maher and Hogan eventually secured Tipp safe passage.

For Meyler, that fact gave evidence at least of a decent pulse in the group.

"I'm happy enough with how we finished out the game," he reflected evenly afterwards, his team now having lost four games in a row.

"The lads kept hurling and we could have rescued it in the end.

"And now we have another game to keep working on things."

Ryan delivered encouraging prognoses on Callanan "Very much in a controlled environment with our medics and everything is as it should be" and 'Bubbles' "a week of training done and an absolute class act to watch", albeit neither are ready to return yet while a thumb injury sustained against Wexford might well have ended McGrath's league.

As to his side's profligacy here, he remarked: "I'm not overly concerned at this time of year. I'd be far more concerned if we weren't getting enough of the ball. To be fair, at times we looked as if we should have been in greater control of that match.

"But we weren't. It really was a hectic finish, a great finish to be honest. Look I think we got tests in several places.

"It was a very uncomfortable day for our full-back line, dealing with the pace of Cork and the short, possession-type game that they play. They will open you up.

"They're a quality side and they're going to be worthy adversaries for us all in the summer. And I think this whole Munster Championship when it arrives on our doorstep... step back and watch. Because this will be special."

Scorers - Tipperary: J Forde 0-12 (7f); B McCarthy 1-1; Patrick Maher 0-3; S Curran, C Barrett and M Breen 0-2 each; A Flynn and B Maher 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 1-10 (8f, 1-0 pen); A Cadogan 0-3; C Lehane and M Cahalane 0-2 each; L Meade, S Kingston, D Kearney and B Lawton 0-1 each.

Tipperary - B Hogan 7; A Flynn 7, S O'Brien 6, D Maher 6; B Heffernan 7, Pádraic Maher 7, R Maher 7; B Maher 6, C Barrett 7; S Curran 7, B McCarthy 7, Patrick Maher 8; M Breen 7, J Forde 9, J McGrath 6. Subs: M Russell NR for McGrath (64), C Darcy for McCarthy (71), M Cahill for D Maher (72).

Cork - A Nash 8; S O'Donoghue 7, D Browne 7, C Spillane 6; C Joyce 7, T O'Mahony 7, M Coleman 7; D Fitzgibbon 6, B Cooper 6; S Kingston 6, C Lehane 7, R O'Flynn 6; A Cadogan 8, M Cahalane 7, P Horgan 7. Subs: L Meade 7 for Kingston (54), B Lawton 7 for O'Flynn (59), D Kearney for Cooper (64), J O'Connor for Fitzgibbon (70).

Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)

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