Saturday 20 January 2018

Revived Rebels stun champions into submission

Munster SH quarter-final: Cork 2-27 Tipperary 1-26

Cork’s Damian Cahalane stretches to block Brendan Maher’s effort for Tipperary during yesterday’s Munster SHC quarter-final in Thurles.
Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cork’s Damian Cahalane stretches to block Brendan Maher’s effort for Tipperary during yesterday’s Munster SHC quarter-final in Thurles. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Welcome to the latest addition to the catalogue of hurling epics. This really was something special, soaring high into mesmerising orbit right from the start and remaining there for every delightful minute of a contest that has thrown the 2017 championship wide open.

Cork came to Semple Stadium with a deep fear of becoming the first team to lose their opening Munster championship game for a third successive season - they left with the whiff of glory in their blazing nostrils.

Of course, they will need no reminding of 2010. Then they ended Tipperary's reign as Munster champions in the quarter-final, but didn't win the title and were later humiliated by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Meanwhile, Tipperary regrouped in the qualifiers and went on to win the All-Ireland. They are heading for the 'back door' again, but not before undertaking the most detailed debriefs following four weeks that have dramatically altered perceptions about them.

The All-Ireland champions went into the Allianz League final as warm favourites to beat Galway, but left with a 16-point defeat and a range of questions against them.

Optimistic

Cahalane celebrates with Stephen McDonnell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cahalane celebrates with Stephen McDonnell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

From a Tipperary perspective, there were some optimistic assessments of that game as a one-off blip. Some even thought it might have a positive spin-off and serve as a re-focussing agent for the big challenges ahead, starting yesterday.

The alternate view was that Cork - who had beaten Tipperary in the league - would be greatly encouraged by what they saw in the final and might work off the lessons in a manner that would make the long odds against them look ridiculous.

The latter proved the more accurate judgement. Cork ripped into Tipperary right from the start and never let up in a splendid game that produced no fewer than 56 scores.

Even when Tipperary recovered from a three-point deficit (1-19 to 0-19) after 48 minutes to lead by one in the 65th minute, Cork held their nerve and continued to trust the pattern that had enriched so much of their game.

Cork's Conor Lehane. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cork's Conor Lehane. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Two points from man-of-the-match Conor Lehane restored their lead before Michael Cahalane, who had come on as a sub a few minutes later, capitalised on a defensive mix-up and fired in Cork's second goal in the 69th minute.

Tipperary pared two points off the deficit in four minutes of stoppage time but Cork countered with two of their own, ensuring a thoroughly-deserved win.

It was a triumph for their positive approach, which was evident from the start. Last year, Cork came to Thurles and tried to contain Tipperary, deploying a sweeper in a system that was alien to them. It backfired badly and the game was over by half-time, when Tipperary led by nine points.

The game plan was altogether different yesterday. It was all about applying as much pressure as possible to the Tipperary defence, a plan that had also worked so well for Galway in the League final.

Galway out-muscled Tipperary then but Cork, since they don't possess the same degree of physicality, had to rely more on pace and positioning. They did it exceptionally well. Once it became apparent that Cork's inside forwards were capable of disrupting the Tipperary full-back line, concern spread through the home supporters as they realised this was going to be a very difficult day.

Defensively, Cork were far from foot-perfect early on and might well have conceded two goals in the opening four minutes. However, they escaped with a two-point giveaway after Noel McGrath booted over and then Anthony Nash deflected Brendan Maher's above the crossbar.

The sides were level 11 times in the first half, taking them to the dressing-rooms at 0-15 each - a scoreline that both sides would have regarded as positive for different reasons.

Tipperary would have expected their status as All-Ireland champions and their greater experience to reinforce their effort in the second-half, while Cork's confidence had been greatly boosted by a first-half performance that bore no resemblance to last year's shambles.

With newcomers Luke Meade and Shane Kingston impressing in attack and Lehane, Alan Cadogan, Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan using their craft to good effect, Cork prospered.

And, as the game progressed, their half-back trio - Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis and Mark Coleman - grew in authority. The latter pair were outstanding in the second-half, their self-belief increasing by the minute as Cork began to sense that something special might be on.

Kingston's goal in the 43rd minute put them four points clear, raising a range of questions of Tipperary.

The response was what would have been expected of champions and they were back level by the 53rd minute.

Séamus Callanan and Michael Breen, who finished the day with six points from open play, were at the heart of the rebalancing phase, the former finding more space close to the Cork goal, the latter timing his forward runs to perfection.

Having drawn level, Tipperary might have expected to press on; however, with Lehane's influence increasing all the time, Cork scored some excellent points.

And while Tipperary - who hadn't lost a championship game to Cork in Semple Stadium since 2006 - kept responding, they were unable to take control of the agenda.

Niall O'Meara made an impact when he came on as a sub but then so did Cork's Luke O'Farrell and Michael Cahalane - his goal proved to be the tie-breaker.

Lehane, Kingston, Horgan, Cadogan and Meade scored 1-19 between them from open play in what was one of Cork's best attacking performances for a long time.

The longer the game went on, the more self-assured Cork became. Indeed, there were times when they looked more like All-Ireland champions than Tipperary, who now face a massive test of their resolve. They must also decide if a change of structure is required.

They have conceded a total of 5-48 in their last two games, a giveaway rate that leaves Michael Ryan and his fellow-strategists with a lot to ponder prior to the qualifier re-launch.

The attacking side of their game functioned well yesterday - 1-26 wins a lot more games than it loses - but the defence never looked comfortable against Cork's energetic raiders, who flashed out a clear warning to all other contenders, including Waterford, their semi-final opponents.

SCORERS - Cork: C Lehane 0-10 (4f, 1'65'), S Kingston 1-4, P Horgan 0-4, L Meade, A Cadogan 0-3 each, M Cahalane 1-0, S Harnedy 0-2, L O'Farrell 0-1.

Tipperary: S Callanan (4f), M Breen 0-6 each, J McGrath 1-1, N McGrath, D McCormack 0-3 each, J O'Dwyer (1 s/l), B Maher 0-2 each, S Curran, P Maher, N O'Meara 0-1 each.

Cork: A Nash 7; S McDonnell 7, D Cahalane 7, C Spillane 7; C Joyce 7, M Ellis 8, M Coleman 8; B Cooper 7, D Fitzgibbon 7; S Harnedy 7, C Lehane 9, S Kingston 8; A Cadogan 7, P Horgan 7, L Meade 7. Subs: L O'Farrell 7 for Cadogan (58), M Cahalane for Meade (66), L McLoughlin for Fitzgibbon (70).

Tipperary: D Gleeson 6; C Barrett 6, J Barry 5, J O'Keeffe 5; S Kennedy 6, R Maher 6, P Maher 6; B Maher 7, S Curran 5; D McCormack 7, M Breen 8, N McGrath 7; J O'Dwyer 6, S Callanan 7, J McGrath 6. Subs: N O'Meara 7 for Curran (51), Joe O'Dwyer 6 for Kennedy (58), A Flynn 6 for Barrett inj (63).

Ref - J Owens (Wexford)

Irish Independent

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