Tipperary win pulling up as underwhelming Cork stare down the barrel at relegation
Tipperary 2-27 Cork 2-15
It wasn't quite on a par with some of the great conspiracy theories, say Roswell, 9/11 or the assassination of JFK, but there was a distinct whiff of something untoward in the air at Semple Stadium yesterday.
Cork fell to a distinctly underwhelming 12-point defeat against their hosts Tipperary and tongues wagged.
A Cork win could have dragged Tipp into a Division 1A relegation play-off with them, a far from appetising prospect ahead of the Munster SHC quarter-final between the counties on May 22.
Instead, it was Tipp who won pulling up as they set up a League quarter-final with Clare on April 3, the venue for that game to be decided by coin toss later today.
On the same day, Cork will do battle with Galway in a relegation shootout and on all evidence to date, they'll have to improve considerably to trouble the Tribesmen.
Bar some spirited patches at home to Kilkenny, it's been a thoroughly forgettable Division 1A campaign for the Rebels, whose record reads: played 5, lost 5.
They didn't raise much of a gallop yesterday and from 0-6 each with 15 minutes played, Tipp hit five unanswered points to help them lead by 0-13 to 0-10 at half-time.
The second half, played out at almost challenge match pace in front of 7,251 spectators, had the predictable result.
Tipp stepped on the gas and the end result was put beyond any doubt when Niall O'Meara scored the game's opening goal with 20 minutes left.
Patrick Horgan, Cork's scorer-in-chief, netted with 13 minutes remaining and there was still time for two more goals - one for each side.
Five minutes from home, Michael Breen rammed home a cracker for Tipp before sub Paudie O'Sullivan replied within a minute with a consolation goal for Cork.
Between them, Breen and John McGrath collected 1-9 from play and if Michael Ryan were to sit down to pick his Championship team this morning, those two names would be on it.
Seamus Callanan's, too, and the 2015 Hurler of the Year nominee returned for his first taste of League action this year, coming on as a half-time sub.
Callanan went chasing goals from the off but settled for two points, with his manager reflecting: "Great to get him back on the pitch but as you can see, and Seamie would be the first to acknowledge this, you don't just step back into this standard and pick up where you left off last August.
"From that perspective, it was really good to get Seamie on the pitch in the last round of games."
He should start against Clare, injury permitting, but others handed the chance to impress yesterday will not.
It was opportunity lost for some, Ryan acknowledged, as he prepares to whittle down his squad following a training camp at Breaffy House next weekend.
He added: "I was disappointed with that game - it lacked a lot of intensity and I'm talking about our intensity."
There were 46 scores over the 70 minutes but the hurling was far too loose and Ryan was right, it lacked in any real intensity.
He said: "I just felt it wasn't happening for us, which was unfortunate because we gave opportunities to guys out there to nail on places and get some quality time.
"It just didn't work out for a couple of guys for various reasons."
Knocks suffered by Barry Heffernan, James Barry and Pádraic Maher will be monitored in the coming days but Ryan will have Patrick 'Bonner' Maher back for the Clare game, he confirmed.
Cork went into battle without a number of long-term injury concerns and while listed to start, neither Seamus Harnedy nor Lorcán McLoughlin did.
Tipp could even afford the luxury of registering 16 wides and when you take into account that a couple of efforts dropped short, they had at least 46 shots at the Cork goal.
That's a worrying statistic for the Leesiders but again, their application to this one could be called into question, given that they had already been condemned to a relegation play-off and that Tipp's need was greater.
As for those conspiracy theories, Cork selector Pat Hartnett insisted that the visitors came to play, while indicating that there had been some heavy training during the week.
Hartnett said: "Every guy goes out to play well and give it their all. Yes, we were aware that we had a game in two weeks' time, that's for sure.
"But we didn't know against who and our preparation didn't change mentally or physically before that.
"So there wasn't any special exemptions put on today. We went out to win the game and play as well as possible.
"But it was part of an overall plan in terms of physical fitness and hurling and so on - so we are abiding by that."
Scorers - Tipperary: J O'Dwyer 0-10 (9fs), M Breen 1-4, J McGrath 0-5, N O'Meara 1-1, N McGrath, S Callanan, D McCormack 0-2 each, B Maher 0-1. Cork: P Horgan 1-8 (0-6fs), P O'Sullivan 1-0, C Lehane 0-3, P Haughney, B Lawton, B Cooper, L O'Farrell 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY - D Gleeson 6; C Barrett 7, J Barry 8, C O'Brien 8; B Heffernan 7, R Maher 7, P Maher 6; B Maher 7, M Breen 9; J O'Dwyer 7, N O'Meara 7, N McGrath 7; K Morris 5, J McGrath 8, A Ryan 5. Subs: D McCormack 7 for Ryan (h.t.), S Callanan 7 for Morris (h-t), W Ryan 7 for Heffernan (52), A Coffey 6 for N McGrath (59), T Hamill NR for Barry (66).
CORK - P Collins 7; K Burke 5, S McDonnell 6, C O'Sullivan 6; C Murphy 6, C Joyce 6, S O'Neill 6; P Haughney 6, J Cronin 5; B Lawton 6, C Lehane 7, B Cooper 6; L O'Farrell 6, A Cadogan 5, P Horgan 7. Subs: D Kearney 6 for J Cronin (h-t), P Cronin 5 for Lawton (55), P O'Sullivan 7 for Cooper (57), S Murphy 6 for Burke (58), S Moylan NR for O'Farrell (67).
Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)