Tipperary 1-24 Cork 3-30
The surprise was that there was no surprise and that’s putting it mildly. Cork – suspected of the type of inconsistency that might prompt them to follow a big result in Walsh Park, which effectively put Waterford out of the championship, with an anti-climactic thud against Tipperary – instead routed their ancient rivals to their biggest defeat in the fixture since 1942.
It was a top-class display from Cork, utilising their tricky combinations and sheer pace to dash through the cavernous gaps in the opposition rearguard. They were sharp enough to score even when the space was less extravagant and on a stage made for him, Conor Lehane delivered a preternatural display of marksmanship.
His eight-point tally included one free with just one 65 sent wide after he had assumed free-taking duties on Patrick Horgan’s replacement. At the start of the second half he unleashed a shot that Barry Hogan did well to save for a 65, which Horgan popped over.
Manager Kieran Kingston reflected on the display from a player, who had been let go from the panel last year but earned a recall after excellent club performances.
“Conor was awesome today. He matched his hurling with his work-rate and his work off the ball. His selflessness was fantastic.” But Kingston reined himself in to emphasise the collective rather than the individual, which was a fair point given that 10 players had scored from play.
Tipperary came into the fixture in fragile enough form having lost all three of their matches to date but hope flickered after the unexpectedly close run they had given Limerick.
The flickering broke into a flare for the first 12 minutes, as they set about the task with enthusiasm and vigour, dashing into a six-point lead, 1-3 to nil. The goal came within 40 seconds of the throw-in after Mark Kehoe spotted Jake Morris unmarked and popped him the pass for the corner forward to score.
In the 11th minute came the turning point, if such a concept wasn't rendered far-fetched by what was to come. Cork full back Rob Downey fouled Kehoe under a dropping ball and referee Seán Stack had no hesitation in awarding the penalty.
Noel McGrath missed nothing else all day but his shot cracked off the post with Tipp four ahead, 1-4 to 0-3. Within 28 seconds, Cork had the ball in the net at the other end.
The move showcased the happier medium in the team's play, mixing some short passing in the exit from defence, followed by a quicker deliver into the forwards. Robbie O'Flynn won the loose ball and sent it in to Alan Connolly, who on an advantage, persevered and finished to the net.
Suddenly Tipperary were wilting. They hadn’t added to the score when the ball was back in their net again. The goal emphasised how short-paced they were when Darragh Fitzgibbon broke from centrefield and realising that no one had kept up with him, continued the run with defenders backing off and drove home the second goal, making it 2-5 to 1-4.
Cork added a further nine points with just two in reply and the match was over, not just because of the margin but because Tipperary were struggling to stay afloat all over the field. Jason Forde, returned after injury, took scores well and McGrath potted all of his frees, but the chances simply weren't created in the quantities needed.
Trailing at the beak by 2-14 to 1-9, Tipp needed a miracle but Cork weren't in the mood. All six forwards scored from play – plus two from the bench. Mark Coleman got up from wing back for a couple. It was a deluge and Tipp's response, although persistent, amounted to nothing more than a few leaky sand bags.
The third goal was academic but illustrative. Fitzgibbon chased what looked a long-odds ball got to it and rifled it across for Tim O’Mahony – reborn in the full-forward line – to get on the end of it for the score.
Alan Flynn was red-carded on the hour after striking Lehane but the time had long gone when that was going to have any influence.
Kingston was cautious about the huge turnaround that saw his team become the first to qualify from the round-robin format having lost their first two matches. Invited to plug his team’s new-found consistency, he reminded the media.
“Two games doesn’t make us a consistent team, either.”
His counterpart Colm Bonnar was dejected after losing all four matches. He knew taking over that retirements and other unavailabilities would make the task demanding.
He sighed when reminded that their bottom position could mean a relegation playoff should Kerry win the McDonagh Cup but paid tribute to Cork.
“They’ve gone down to Walsh Park and beaten Waterford and come to Thurles and beaten Tipperary. Nobody’s going to underestimate their challenge.”
TIPPERARY: 1 B Hogan; 2 C Barrett, 3 R Maher (capt; 0-1 free), 4 C Morgan; 5 D Quirke (0-1), 6 S Kennedy, 7 B Heffernan; 8 C Stakelum (0-1), 9 D McCormack; 12 M Breen, 11 N McGrath (0-13, 12 frees), 10 G Browne; 13 J Forde (0-5), 14 M Kehoe, 15 J Morris (1-2).
Subs: 19 A Flynn for Heffernan, 23 P Maher (0-1) for Browne ( both half-time), 26 J Quigley for Barrett (40 mins), 17 C Bowe for Breen (47), 25 G O'Connor for McCormack (69).
CORK: 1 P Collins; 4 S O'Donoghue, 3 R Downey, 5 D Cahalane; 2 N O'Leary, 6 C Joyce, 7 M Coleman (capt; 0-3, one free); 8 D Fitzgibbon (1-0), 9 L Meade; 13 S Kingston (0-4), 14 S Harnedy (0-3), 10 R O'Flynn (0-3); 12 C Lehane (0-8, one free), 11 P Horgan (0-5, three frees, one 65), 15 A Connolly (1-1).
Subs: 21 T O'Mahony (1-1) for Horgan (45 mins), 20 T O'Connell for Meade (57), 25 J O'Connor (0-2) for O'Flynn (61), 24 S Barrett for Lehane, 19 G Millerick for Downey (both 66).
Referee: Seán Stack (Dublin).