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Joe Canning: Cork will need to reproduce their best to clear tricky Tipp hurdle

It’s a must-win game for both the Rebels and the Premier County while settled Clare should prove too strong for Waterford in Ennis

Where has this Cork team been all along?

Last Saturday night it wasn’t just about goals and points, because Cork have never had a problem putting up big scores against anybody, but it was their attitude and frame of mind. They were physical, they played on the edge and when they were tackling there was always an extra player coming in – stuff that you wouldn’t normally associate with Cork.

You could see it in their body language too. You didn’t need to hear what they were saying to see that they were encouraging each other. Lads were running 10 yards to clap somebody on the back for winning a free. There was a real togetherness about the performance and a serious level of intent.

Not every team performs under pressure and many teams have wilted under the kind of pressure Limerick are liable to bring. Over the last few years Limerick’s opponents have often played with fear, not wanting to take too many risks. They still lost. This time for Cork the consequences of losing were black and white. They couldn’t afford to play with fear.


A few Cork players came of age. I thought Brian Hayes was phenomenal. His touch for the first goal, when he got his hurley to a long puck-out, inside the Limerick D, and deflected it to Shane Barrett was unbelievable. That wasn’t a lucky touch, that was a controlled flick that Barrett was expecting.

Cork went after Limerick in the air – which most teams write-off as an option – and Hayes was at the heart of that. He was the target for a lot of Cork’s long puck-outs and he kept putting his hand up. His touch was very good, too, which hasn’t always been the case. When he came across from the footballers he was definitely a work in progress and we really only saw glimpses of what he could do. But on Saturday night he put it all together as a ball-winner, a playmaker and a finisher.

From Cork’s point of view, though, this can’t be a one-off performance. If they lose to Tipperary on Sunday they’re gone from the championship. Would a draw – like last year – be any good for either team? It’s not a mathematical impossibility that a team will qualify from Munster with three points, but that would require an extraordinary sequence of results. Realistically, Cork and Tipp both know this is a game they must win.

Cork will be favourites after beating Limerick but in some ways this game sets up nicely for Tipperary. They’ve had two weeks to recover from their match against Waterford in Walsh Park and the way they finished that night will have been a huge boost to their morale. But they’ve had time to come down from that and build themselves back up again.

Cork have only had a week to get over the Limerick game. Making a physical recovery is not the issue. They would have been focusing on that straight after the game and again on Sunday. The big question for Cork is whether they can recover mentally.

The mental energy they expended against Limerick would have been huge. To get into that frame of mind so soon again will be tough, and if they’re not in that frame of mind they’ll be in trouble.

Tipperary will be targeting a fast start. Liam Cahill’s teams have caused trouble for Cork in recent years, including his time with Waterford, and the Tipperary under-21s. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went hunting for goals to put Cork on the back foot.

From a defensive point of view, they’ll have to stop Cork’s runners. The best way to do that is with numbers. They’ll have to flood their defence and block the spaces. Limerick failed to do that in the first half on Saturday night and found themselves eight points down. In their last two games Cork have created a world of goal chances and Tipp can’t afford to give them the oxygen of goals.

After that it comes down to work rate. Who wants it more? On that question Cork didn’t leave any doubts last Saturday night. They’ll need to come up with the same answer on Sunday.

The game in Ennis is huge too. A win for Waterford would guarantee them qualification from the group and give them a big chance of getting to the Munster final. A loss for Clare would put them in trouble again and in that sense there’s probably more pressure on them.

At the start of the championship most people reckoned that Clare were the second best team in the country and the biggest threat to Limerick. This year so much is changing from week to week that it’s hard to keep up, but I would still say that Clare are in the top three contenders and their performance against Cork three weeks ago impressed me.

They didn’t have their best stuff, and they were in trouble for a while after half-time, but they took over the match after that. You could see all of their big match experience. Only a week earlier they had thrown away a big lead against Limerick but they were able to park that. This was a game they couldn’t afford to lose and they imposed themselves on Cork.

One of the things I like about Clare is that they change very little about their set-up from game to game, regardless of their opponents. Limerick and Kilkenny have a similar mentality. They believe in their own structure and their own way of playing and they let other teams worry about them.

Waterford’s set-up has been more predictable for their first couple of games, and it has worked so far. I wouldn’t write them off, but I still fancy Clare.