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Horgan strikes right note for Rebels

A game with its fingers in high summer deposited these old Munster bluebloods into a National League semi-final on April 22 and sent a thousand swallows swooping across Tom Semple's field.

This could have been set to music and, had it been, maybe Wagner would have been the preference. For it was operatic in tenor, a beautiful, billowing game with not a sliver of darkness in the narrative. And that, I suppose, was the one, jarring asterisk at the bottom of the page. We got championship pace, but April intensity.

Pat Horgan's spectacular 72nd- minute equaliser at the Killinan end brought a just conclusion to the contest, Cork obdurately refusing to bow to a Tipperary team that -- as with the week before -- looked to have done just about enough for victory.

And for Jimmy Barry-Murphy, you had to suspect that was the day's most precious gift. He has some luminously classy young hurlers on his hands, but here they showed evidence of an argumentative gene. They are building into something.

The teams were level on 10 occasions and, for much of the contest, your money would have been on Tipp. Pa Bourke finally had the day his wrists have long promised and Noel McGrath fired another five imperious points from play in a routinely sweet performance marred only by a late and worrisome shoulder injury.

Others, too, like Shane Bourke and John O'Brien, hurled forcefully in an attack that seems to be slowly distancing itself from the rolling spatial awareness strategy mastered by Eamonn O'Shea and returning to more traditional, hip-to-hip combat.

Cork, too, have a palpably developing style in attack, with young fliers like Conor Lehane and Jamie Coughlan finding seemingly perfect sync with more mature gunslingers like Horgan and the jet-heeled Cathal Naughton. Paudie O'Sullivan was their only forward held scoreless; and Brian O'Meara Tipp's.

In a sense, there was just far too much poetry out the field for people to bother working the ball into big men on the edge of the square.

Impressive

We were eight minutes in before Barry Kelly blew for the first free and, if you wanted the game in microcosm, it came in the 21st minute. The impressive Darren Sweetnam pointed after Coughlan's sublimely directed sideline cut completely disarmed the Tipp half-back line. Instantly, from Brendan Cummins' intelligent puckout, Paul Curran and James Woodlock calmly worked the ball to McGrath for a text-book score.

Someone declared what we were watching to be "a kind of chess". It had that feel to it.

The solitary goal opportunity of the opening half fell to Tipp when Lehane, having chased Padraic Maher half the length of the field to get in a brilliant hook, saw the ball spill inside Cork's full-back line to O'Meara. The big Kilruane man was suddenly one-on-one with Donal Og Cusack. The goalkeeper won.

Lehane's battle with Maher was worth the entrance money alone. The Cork kid had a score to his name just 90 seconds in but had to wait 27 minutes for his next, Maher giving an exhibition down the old stand side. That second point came when Lehane made a brief sortie towards the Kinane stand and, soon, he was given the equivalent of compassionate leave with a little stint away from the Thurles stalwart at full-forward.

Cork led 0-13 to 0-11 at the midpoint, but Tipp resumed with the greater conviction.

By now, they'd pulled a disappointing O'Meara to the '40' and brought in Shane McGrath to buttress their midfield. And McGrath was a pivotal presence as they edged in front with points from O'Brien and Pa Bourke as well as a goaled 20-metre free from the latter after Sean Og O hAilpin pulled the Thurles man down.

Midway through the second half, Tipp were four points to the good and looking in a reasonably comfortable place. One man, though, seemed hell-bent on articulating an argument. Naughton has the pace of an Olympic sprinter and, on his good days, the touch of a jewel-cutter. This was one of those days. Time and again he torqued past would-be Tipp markers with bursts of acceleration that gave them the look of dray-horses chasing a stallion.

And Lehane was back on a brief stint at full-forward when the hard-working O'Sullivan brilliantly spooned the sliotar in along the Killinan end-line before flicking to the Midleton teenager, whose 56th-minute finish was unerring.

It was that way from start to finish, a game with its own eccentric nuances.

With 11 minutes remaining, though, Tipp looked to have made the decisive move. A wonderful Curran block on Horgan set in train a quicksilver move for substitute Eoin Kelly to put his team three clear. And, almost instantly, William Egan misdirected a pass to Pa Bourke who scored easily.

Cork, it seemed, might just be suffering a terminal leak of hope.

But this was pretty much where Naughton came to the fore, running at Tipp in the very segment of a game that teams would prefer you not to. Cork would score five of the next six points, Naughton's hand on four of them either directly or indirectly.

The last of those, an equalising score from John Gardiner with his first touch, instantly triggered the perfect Tipp response with Shane Bourke putting them back in front with a huge score almost from the front row of the Killinan stand.

Egan then dropped a late free into Cummins' grateful palm and, just as the home crowd in a 10,150 attendance began to clear their throats, Horgan collected a long delivery from his own full-back Stephen McDonnell, to nail a glorious and final equaliser.

"T'was championship pace there for most of it," smiled Declan Ryan at the conclusion.

"The fine day I suppose and Tipp and Cork. A fantastic game for the spectators that augurs well for the championship ahead maybe."

Barry-Murphy echoed the broad enthusiasm with just one gentle proviso. "You'd prefer not to meet them again," he reflected candidly. "In fairness, you'd like a change, but we could have got that if we won the group and we didn't manage to do that today. "Look, all I'm concerned with is being in the semi-final. That was our aim at the start of the league and so far, so good."

Man of the Match: Pat Horgan (Cork)

SCORERS -- Tipperary: P Bourke 1-6 (1-2f), N McGrath 0-5, J O'Brien, S Bourke 0-3 each, G Ryan 0-2, T Stapleton, P Maher, J Woodlock, E Kelly 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (3f), C Lehane 1-2, C Naughton 0-4, D Sweetnam 0-3, J Coughlan 0-2, J Gardiner, P Cronin, W Egan (1f) 0-1 each.

TIPPERARY -- B Cummins 8; D Maher 6, P Curran 7, M Cahill 8; T Stapleton 7, C O'Mahony 8, P Maher 9; B Maher 6, J Woodlock 7; G Ryan 7, N McGrath 8, P Bourke 8; S Bourke 7, B O'Meara 5, J O'Brien 8. Subs: S McGrath 8 for Ryan (h-t), E Kelly 7 for O'Meara (48), T Hammersley 6 for McGrath (55), J Ryan 5 for Woodlock (59), A Ryan for B Maher (70).

CORK -- D Og Cusack 8; S O'Neill 7, S McDonnell 8, B Murphy 7; S Og O hAilpin 7, E Cadogan 7, W Egan 7; L McLoughlin 8, D Sweetnam 8; C Lehane 8, P Cronin 7, C Naughton 8; J Coughlan 7, P O'Sullivan 6, P Horgan 9. Subs: L O Farrell 6 for Coughlan (59), T Kenny 6 for Sweetnam (62), J Gardiner for McLoughlin (68).

REF -- B Kelly (Westmeath)

Irish Independent