Sunday 25 February 2018

Phoney war whets appetite for summer

Cork 1-14 Tipperary 1-14

A result that both deserved but which was of no benefit to either team at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, where Tipperary and Cork went through a decent dry run for their late May championship date at Semple Stadium.

Neither Denis Walsh nor Declan Ryan was prepared to place false and futile hope on Kilkenny and Galway forfeiting sufficient points in the closing straight of the league to throw their teams a lifeline.

For both, the league is effectively run after five rounds, and the next two months will be a wasteland of meaningless matches, regardless of their approach to their last two games.

It is one of the problems for the hurling league by comparison to its football equivalent. The fear of relegation for teams like Tipperary and Cork, both with five points after yesterday, is not there, the need to look over their shoulders removed by a trapdoor that only allows one down each year.

Yet the noises from most of the teams who have experienced relegation in recent years is that a preservation order should be slapped on all 'established' hurling counties to prevent a drop to a lower tier.

Both sides will feel like they could have prevailed here in front of a respectable turnout of 7,782.

Ben O'Connor's free into the Blackrock End from close to the sideline at the very end struck an upright and spun back into play after John Gardiner had pushed over a 65-metre free for parity as the game moved into injury-time.

In between those two frees Benny Dunne might have done better at the other end when Noel McGrath somehow squeezed the ball out to him despite pressure from four red shirts.

Significantly, both managers drew the conclusion that the match was not far off championship intensity and with a view to May 29 that was to be expected. They were level 10 times and on the two occasions when either team looked like establishing an advantage, the gap was quickly closed.

Twelve months ago Cork won the corresponding fixture and then their championship encounter so this was their third successive undefeated game against the reigning All-Ireland champions.

For Tipperary, the injury count continues to increase, with corner-back Paddy Stapleton stretchered off after 15 minutes when a soaring Michael Cussen landed on top of him after making a fine catch. Of all the players on the field, the 6'7" Cussen was the last man Stapleton needed to tangle with and the consequence looks like extensive rib damage. Yet the free went to Cussen and O'Connor converted.

For Cussen it was a rare moment to illustrate what he can bring to the team. The central cog in a new-look full-forward line, his endeavour can't be faulted, but his touch is still too cumbersome for this level.

For all their attacking deficiencies , though, Cork's defence can still make it as attritional as anyone.

John Gardiner had a magnificent match at wing-back, reading the play with precision and thundering into tackles with ferocity across his line.

On the other wing, James Nagle, still only 20, made his league debut and despite letting Dunne away for 1-2 he was strong in the air, adding to the options as Walsh seeks a permanent replacement for the deposed Sean Og O hAilpin.


Behind them, Stephen McDonnell's progress continues unabated and his dispossession of Lar Corbett at one stage of the second half was all the more memorable as he executed it without a hurl.

Corbett showed little of the spark that made him Hurler of the Year in 2010 as Dunne, McGrath and Pa Bourke -- chiefly from placed balls -- shared the scoring burden.

As the scoreline would suggest, defences were on top and Padraic Maher essentially did for Tipperary what Gardiner was doing for Cork, with John O'Keeffe once again asserting himself as the most likely long-term replacement for Declan Fanning at wing-back.

Significantly, all three Cork half-forwards were replaced but Cian McCarthy, the last to go, did have some productive moments against Maher.

Cork were much more profligate in the first half as they failed to capitalise on the platform given to them by Gardiner and the industrious Pa Cronin at midfield. They trailed to three quick Tipp points early on and by the break two late Bourke frees gave the visitors a 0-7 to 0-6 advantage.

Cork blitzed the restart, with Luke O'Farrell squeezing a shot beneath Brendan Cummins within a minute after opportunities for Cussen and McCarthy were denied.

Cathal Naughton and McCarthy followed up with points and Cork's lead was suddenly four -- a different game.

The response to that surge was what pleased Ryan most afterwards, though how Cork allowed Dunne to run in off the sideline unchallenged for so long before slipping a shot past Donal Og Cusack will disappoint them in review.

Tipperary got much more from Gearoid Ryan at midfield as the half progressed and that should soften the blow of Brendan Maher's unfortunate loss earlier in the week.

Little daylight appeared between them for much of the second half, successive points from substitutes Brian O'Meara and John O'Brien the only time the advantage was more than one.

O'Brien was sent off near the end by referee Michael Wadding for a second yellow card, the latest player (football and hurling) to pick up such a caution for tangling with Cork's Eoin Cadogan.

Manager Walsh admitted his disappointment afterwards at being virtually out of contention with two games remaining. "We've played well enough to win or get a result in all the games, and we've lost two games by a point and we've drawn today," he said.

"If things had gone slightly in our favour we'd be on track for another league final, but that's it, so be it."

May 29 won't be long coming.

Man of the Match: J Gardiner (Cork)

Scorers -- Cork: L O'Farrell 1-1, B O'Connor 0-4f, C McCarthy 0-3 (1 s-l), J Gardiner 0-2f, R Curran, C Naughton, J O'Connor P Cronin 0-1 each. Tipperary: P Bourke 0-6 (3f, 2 '65's), B Dunne 1-2, N McGrath 0-3, J O'Brien, B O'Meara, G Ryan 0-1 each.

Cork -- D Og Cusack 6; S McDonnell 8, E Cadogan 7, S Murphy 7; J Gardiner 8, R Curran 7, J Nagle 8; L McLoughlin 6, P Cronin 7; T Kenny 5, C McCarthy 7, C Naughton 5; B O'Connor 6, M Cussen 5, L O'Farrell 6. Subs: J O'Connor 7 for McLoughlin (32), N McCarthy 6 for Naughton (53), P Horgan 5 for Kenny (54), P O'Sullivan 6 for Cussen (57), B Cooper 6 for McCarthy (67).

Tipperary -- B Cummins 6; M Cahill 7, P Curran 6, P Stapleton; J O'Keeffe 7, Padraic Maher 8, D Young 7; G Ryan 8, S McGrath 6; B Dunne 8, N McGrath 8, Patrick Maher 5; S Bourke 5, P Bourke 6, L Corbett 5. Subs: E Connolly 6 for Stapleton, B O'Meara 6 for S Bourke (h-t), J O'Brien 6 for Patrick Maher (52), M Gleeson for McGrath (61), J Coghlan for Stapleton (70).

Ref -- M Wadding (Waterford).

Irish Independent

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