John Allen: Cork and Tipperary have a lot to prove this season
Munster hurling rivals would both love to take shortest route to All-Ireland series
Cork’s Paudie O’Sullivan reaches for the dropping ball in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
So on Sunday we have the first big hurling championship game of the year (in these parts anyway) – Dublin and Wexford have their own clash tomorrow night. It’s a local derby and for the victorious team there is the honour and glory and the added reward of a potentially shorter journey to the September Sunday in Croke Park.
As well as that of course there is the bonus of bragging rights, the traditional spoils of derby victory. I’m not than sure how they’re going to be used though. Were I to spend an evening on the golf course with one of my Tipperary friends or indeed a hour in the Palace Bar in the capital or Paddy Rohan’s in Nenagh gloating about our temporary local supremacy rather than having the usual banter, I mightn’t be too popular or welcome for too long.
Now that we are able to discuss sport within the anonymous environs of the internet, we no longer have to actually know real people to shoot our mouths off. But as an online discussion descends into a juvenile, hostile spat – as it invariably does – it’s those who believe they have something to boast about who tend to be the most unpleasant contributors, and derbies draw out some obnoxious donkeys.
For some reason that is not really discernible, dislike of our local rivals is an outlook that’s hard to shake. I suppose, generally, it’s mostly good natured in real life. But the internet is a different story. Anyway back to the main story.
Forty years ago I had the honour of playing my first senior match against Tipperary. It was all a bit surreal for a country boy from Aghabullogue who grew up with the names of the Cork and the Tipp greats etched in my memory. I never expected to actually play in such a match.
The names of Ring and John and Jimmy Doyle were household. Then came the likes of Wall, Keating and Roche. The 1970s and the advent of television coverage created new heroes. But now it’s 2016 and new stars populate the hurling firmament. We saw many of them shining in Thurles in the league finals.
On Sunday more will twinkle, some will shine and others will have to wait for another day on another orbit.
The ‘waiting in the long grass’ and the ‘there isn’t much noise out of Tipp/Cork’ theories were being expounded earlier in the week. Of course, we all know why those particular chestnuts were being expounded. For both teams the lack of recent quality matches means no current form to hang any positive (or otherwise) opinion on, so all is quiet on both fronts.
Cork had, arguably, the better finish to their campaign with their away victory over Galway which kept them in Division IA.
Tipperary, on the other hand, looked like they had Clare beaten in their quarter-final game but they weren’t ahead when the final whistle sounded. It was a mixed campaign for them, with some of their marquee forwards injured for much of the time.
But all the injury management and rehab is geared towards having players ready for championship action. And in Munster it doesn’t get bigger that a Cork and Tipp championship game.
Sure, there now is another route to an All-Ireland final but the preferred one has to be the shortest one, which means winning the provincial campaign with the bonus of automatic qualification for the All-Ireland semi-final. For Tipp or Cork this season, that means five games.
The cold facts, as of a fortnight ago, are that both Clare and Waterford are in a stronger position to go the shorter (one of them won’t though) route than both Cork or Tipp.
Cork’s league campaign ranged from the hopeless against Dublin to the impressive and unlucky against Kilkenny. But overall, if they were being given a school report it might come under the ‘must work harder’ heading or the ‘could do much better’ category.
Tipperary’s report would be a shade better. Staying with the school analogy, it is widely accepted that Tipperary’s class of 2016 is stronger and have more potential than Cork’s.
However, how often since 2010 has that been written and said of the Tipperary senior hurlers?
They could be described as serial underachievers in that time frame. After the under-21 team blitzed Galway in that year’s All-Ireland final to complete a wonderful six days in the Premier hurling world, I, and many others, incorrectly predicted a period of dominance for them.
On paper, Tipperary have quite a number of top-quality players. Yet there’s always been a question mark about their collective desire to battle and win when the need is greatest.
It won’t be greatest on Sunday. It will only be greatest when it’s knockout. However, they need to send a positive signal to the doubting Thomases in the county.
Cork, for their doubters, need a strong performance. The adjective ‘strong’ is open to interpretation. They underwhelmed in many facets of their spring games.
But there’s always hope in Cork where the hurlers are concerned. They will have a sizeable following in Thurles and those supporters will travel again whether it’s the scenic route or the shortest one.
Based on quality of players available and on all known form,Tipperary should win. But this is Cork and Tipperary in the Munster championship where the foregone was often the wrong conclusion.