End of May. Thurles. Munster Senior Hurling Championship. Dreams should be made of this but thanks to horrendous weather conditions and a timid Cork challenge, Tipperary eased to victory by nine points, equaling their largest winning margin over the Rebel county.
Tipperary came into this encounter with plenty to prove. Several key player retirements and speculation of a playing panel unrest led to uncertainty in the Premier County in the lead-up to this fixture. Michael Ryan made bold moves in his team selection giving debuts to wing back Kennedy and half forward duo of Curran and McCormick.
The debutantes did not let Tipperary down as the trio soared to the occasion, something that Cork failed to do. The post-game reaction spoke of how loose Cork were before this fixture; something for a team who have struggled for form and performance was surprising. Put it simply, Cork never got to grips with the game and their tactical decision to deploy Bill Egan in the sweeper position posed more problems for themselves than nullifying the threat of Seamus Callanan inside.
It was clear from the early exchanges that Cork were worried about Callanan. The Drom Inch marksman had two players for company at all times and Cork defenders could not resist a bit of sledging when the forward missed a long range free early doors. The Tipperary forward did have the last laugh with eight points (four from play) and his point when he gave Cahalane the eyes in the first half, thought he was going to pass the sliothar cross the field but then took on the shot was spectacular.
Cork’s tactical failure allowed other Tipperary forwards to express themselves. O’Dwyer was having the proverbial field day scoring points when presented and John McGrath hold up work and ability to bring players into play was a joy to watch. The newcomers to the forward line also contributed as Cork’s back line started to afford more space to Tipperary in extremely trying conditions.
The weather was horrendous. The constant torrential downpour meant that first touch and ball control was vital. Cork deployed a short passing game which on several occasions broke down in their back line which were punished by Tipperary. When Cork decided to haul ball from deep, it was extremely ponderous and chances were that Padraic or Ronan Maher were collecting the ball.
Tipperary will not learn much from this contest only that overall the team played within themselves. There was a period in the second half (15 minutes) where Cork did attempt to mount a challenge but was ended when Pa Horgan’s free was saved by Tipperary. The strength on the bench in the last quarter was impressive with Forde, Bergin and Bonnar Maher coming on and thriving in the open space now afforded by Cork.
The Premier County were rarely troubled as the sweeper system deployed meant that goal chances were non-existent, a worrying trend ahead of the remainder of the championship.
Cork have serious issues; the panel has good talent in the forward line but unfortunately their work rate yet again was not at the standard required. The midfield area was a no contest as Maher and Breen dominated proceedings so much so that Daniel Kearney was called ashore before half-time. The back line was protected by a sweeper system which worked to prevent goals but systematically lacked the nous required to stop Tipperary’s scoring threat from long range.
The officiating caught the eye again. The enforcement of players pulling helmets offense is not being implemented. Yellow cards were given to Barrett and Cooper but should have being red after a handbags incident. Barry Kelly was a busy man as Hawkeye was called upon several occasions as the weather conditions deteriorated rapidly. Hawkeye was setup correctly and all decisions were reviewed with minimum fuss; nice addition to Semple.
It might be early stages in the hurling championship but the sweeper system is going to rid the game with any goal-scoring chances. Waterford and Clare have started the system and have perfected it; other teams have tried to adopt the system and failed. It is a system which works well in winter hurling but summer hurling is a different story.
I hope that a team who does not adopt the system wins Liam McCarthy this season; it is a terrible plight on the sport and hurling requires goals and excitement in games. Today was dire entertainment value and hopefully the powers that be have taken note. Limerick and Tipperary will play conventional hurling in four weeks but this will be the exception to the rule.
Man of the match
Brendan Maher had an incredible game, controlled midfield exchanges and his distribution throughout was on point with some deft flicks and hand passes in terrible weather conditions. Maher’s conditioning was immense and his work rate edges the accolade from Padraic Maher who had a field day in the half-back line as a sweeper.