Saturday 24 February 2018

today's ALL-IRELAND hurling SEMI-FINAL previewDermot Crowe

Cork v Tipperary

Croke Park, 3.30

The history of this fixture sings to its own tune. Cork may carry the flag for last year's semi-forgotten semi-finalists, and they are Munster champions and marginal favourites, yet there is a distinct sense of nervousness amongst their people about what sits in wait. After all, smart as Cork's progress has been, they are not looking as smart as Tipp appeared in 2010 when they ran into Aisake ó hAilpín and a Cork team driven demented by the desire to beat them. A Tipp win here would not rank in the same league of astonishment as four years ago in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Logic, then, is what you go on, but with a deferential nod to this wizened old fixture's flair for the unexpected.

That qualification established, Cork are trusted to have reached a point in their evolution under Jimmy Barry-Murphy where they can handle it. Tipperary have removed the odour of defeat to embark on a run which began with that gratifying reversal of fortune in Thurles against Galway and kicked on, finding some of the free expression which had become a trademark of better days before their confidence nosedive that had them wondering who and what they were. Even allowing for the frailties of the opposition posed by Galway, Offaly and Dublin, the matches were won convincingly and have drummed up a renewed enthusiasm and momentum that makes them a serious threat to Cork's plan to win the All-Ireland they feel they left behind last year.

In the space of four weeks they posted wins with totals of 3-25, 5-25 and 2-23. The flipside shows a defence leaking 4-13, 1-20 and 0-16, which points to an improving resistance and a more settled and hardier back six. It is not one that they can entirely trust just yet. Today's test will be a different measure of their fortitude, with Cork bringing a forward line that is as hot as what's there, and an improved defensive standing, a better midfield and a momentum that isn't so much about the last three games as the last three years.

They stay with the same team. There was a possibility that Pa Cronin, an injury scare, might be rested but Barry-Murphy is reviving the spirit of 1999 when he picked the same team and generally used the same subs once the team was winning. How they line out may be at variance with selection. Damien Cahalane might not seem the ideal foil for Seamus Callanan, who has found an impressive scoring streak without ridding those big-day doubts, and the task could be handed to Stephen McDonnell, lightning quick and becoming an even more complete player than last year, with greater composure and confidence. Shane O'Neill's Croke Park ghosts may be offered the chance of exorcism on Lar Corbett, whose return is one of the reasons Tipperary have become more like their old selves. The only straightforward duel, it seems, will be Mark Ellis, a towering lump of a centre back, on the ever-dependable and influential Bonner Maher.

Cork might stand a better chance of winning the All-Ireland yet defeat here is not inconceivable. The team is still developing but the attack will pose problems for any defence and there is a sturdiness to their overall alignment, and better tactical grasp, than was evident a year ago. James Barry is expected to play at full back for Tipperary, with Paudie Maher on the wing. The revival in Shane McGrath, demonstrated most explicitly against Dublin, will fuel greater optimism that the key men of Tipp's All-Ireland winning year have recaptured what was missing. In attack they have hurlers in form, some with question marks over temperament, and some with undoubted potential, like Noel McGrath, who they need to produce if they are to win. Questions and concerns remain as well over Michael Cahill's fitness. He is not included today. Cork should, and Cork must, win.

Cork: A Nash; S O'Neill, D Cahalane, S McDonnell; C Joyce, M Ellis, L McLoughlin; D Kearney, A Walsh; C Lehane, B Cooper, S Harnedy; A Cadogan, P Cronin, P Horgan.

Tipperary: D Gleeson; C Barrett, Paudie Maher, P Stapleton; B Maher, J Barry, K Bergin; S McGrath, J Woodlock; G Ryan, Patrick Maher, J O'Dwyer; N McGrath, S Callanan, L Corbett.

Verdict: Cork.

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