Patrick 'Bonner' Maher pulls strings to inspire Tipperary against Cork
Munster SHC semi-final
CORK'S pain was eased by the prospects of reviving their All-Ireland ambitions via the qualifier route but this one will still hurt.
The direct route remains the best option on the championship voyage, which explains why there was so much contentment on Tipperary faces as they left Pairc Ui Chaoimh yesterday.
They had seen their side carefully working through a range of problems, including being reduced to 14 men when John O'Brien was sent off for a second yellow-card offence in the 48th minute.
At the time, it looked like a possible game-changer in such a tight contest but Tipperary's experience enabled them to minimise the impact of the numerical difference.
Tipperary were three points ahead when O'Brien was sent off and while Cork tried gallantly to make the extra man count on the home run, they just couldn't complete the recovery as Tipperary booked in for a return to Pairc Ui Chaoimh for a Munster final clash with Waterford on July 15.
Declan Ryan wasted no time before warning of the perils that game holds against opponents who have so much to prove after last year's humiliation but the fact remains that Tipperary will be warm fancies to retain the title before heading for Croke Park in August.
Cork have now lost the safety net and will back in the unforgiving qualifier mix on Saturday week against Offaly or Dublin.
It's dangerous territory but, unlike the Leinster pair, who will re-engage with the championship after being heavily beaten by Galway and Kilkenny, Cork have a whole range of positives to work off.
They scored 24 times yesterday, once more than Tipperary; they led between the third and 46th minutes and coursed their more experienced rivals all the way to the finish line, only to come up short by the tiniest of margins.
"Inexperience probably counted against us in the end," remarked Jimmy Barry-Murphy, who will have been disappointed by some late misses as Cork surged on in pursuit of the levelling scores.
Substitute Cian McCarthy drove wide from a position where it looked initially as if a goal chance was on and Jamie Coughlan clipped a sideline ball wide of the posts.
Cork were trailing by four points after 63 minutes and while they pared three points off the deficit, time ran out on them as they chased the equaliser.
With the margin so tight, it's inevitable that Cork will reflect on lost opportunities along the way while also cursing the bad luck which denied them a goal in the 30th minute. Pa Cronin got his stick to a lobbing ball and flicked it to the Tipperary net but referee Brian Gavin awarded a free out, presumably for what he deemed to be a 'square ball' offence.
It was the closest of marginals but it went against Cork which left their interval lead (0-14 to 0-12) at two rather than five points after playing with the breeze.
They had led by four points on three different occasions in the first half but Tipperary, for whom Pa Bourke was radar-accurate from placed balls, countered every time.
By the 20th minute, all six Cork forwards had scored and were asking really serious questions of the Tipperary defence. At the other end, Patrick 'Bonner' Maher's relentless probing was testing the solidity of the Cork defence and leading to productive spin-offs for Noel McGrath, Brian O'Meara and Bourke.
Maher's return is a major plus for Tipperary. A superb ball-winner, he takes on defences with his powerful running and is always looking for a colleague running into position.
If anything, he's too selfless and would be an even bigger threat if he trusted his own finishing more often.
Another significant development for Tipperary was the arrival of Lar Corbett as a 33rd-minute sub for Gearoid Ryan. It brought a mighty roar of approval from the Tipperary supporters, who had feared some weeks ago that they had seen the last of him in the blue and gold jersey.
It took him some time to play his way into the game but he did make a telling contribution to the crucial 46th goal which, ultimately, proved so important.
Bonner and O'Brien made the initial break but it was Corbett who provided the pass which released Noel McGrath who beat Anthony Nash from close range.
It gave Tipperary a 1-15 to 0-16 lead, which they extended to three points shortly afterwards when Padraic Maher, whose influence on the game grew significantly in the second half, clipped over a fine score after a powerful run.
The momentum was now very much with Tipperary but O'Brien's dismissal gave Cork renewed hope. However, they lacked the guile to fully exploit the extra man against a Tipperary team that held its nerve under the most intense pressure.
Quite where they stand vis-a-vis Kilkenny is open to question but it's not an issue for now anyway as the two All-Ireland favourites continue to take the high road towards the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Corbett's return is a huge boost for Tipperary, whose overall panel strength gives them a wide range of options. Eoin Kelly, who was demoted to the subs' bench for yesterday's game, had to wait until the 67th minute for a call-up while Seamus Callanan wasn't used at all.
John Gardiner and Sean Og O hAilpin, who lost out in the shake-up after Cork's disappointing league final performance against Kilkenny, didn't feature either as Jimmy Barry-Murphy put his faith in a younger alternatives.
And, while Cork didn't quite make it in the end, JBM will be quite hopeful of an extended run through the qualifiers. At their best, Cork brought huge energy to their game and returned some brilliant scores.
However, with the exception of the disallowed goal, they rarely threatened Brendan Cummins, despite having two good chances in the first half. Both yielded points from Darren Sweetnam and Jamie Coughlan but more daring finishers might have gone for goals.
Tipperary should have had a goal in the 44th minute but the referee whistled back and awarded them a free in after adjudging that Cork had fouled before John O'Brien whipped the ball to the net.
It might have been hugely significant on another day but, on this occasion, Tipperary had enough craft to take them through to another Munster final.
Scorers -- Tipperary: P Bourke 0-12 (7f, 2 '65s), N McGrath 1-4, B O'Meara, B Maher 0-2 each, G Ryan, Padraic Maher 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-11 (8f), J Coughlan, P O'Sullivan 0-3 each, C Lehane 0-2, C Naughton, P Cronin, C McCarthy, D Sweetnam, D Kearney 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- B Cummins 7; C O'Brien 6, P Curran 7, M Cahill 7; T Stapleton 6, C O'Mahony 7, Padraic Maher 8; B Maher 7, S McGrath 7; G Ryan 5, Patrick Maher 9, P Bourke 8; B O'Meara 7, J O'Brien 6, N McGrath 9. Subs: L Corbett 7 for Ryan (33), S Bourke 6 for O'Meara (55), J Woodlock 6 for B Maher (57), E Kelly for Bourke (67), D Maher for Stapleton (70).
Cork -- A Nash 7; S O'Neill 6, B Murphy 7, C O'Sullivan 7; T Kenny 6, E Cadogan 6, W Egan 7; D Sweetnam 7, L McLoughlin 7; C Naughton 7, P Cronin 7, C Lehane 8; J Coughlan 7, P O'Sullivan 8, P Horgan 8. Subs: C McCarthy 7 for Naughton (37), D Kearney 7 for Sweetnam (50), L Farrell for Lehane (63).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly).