Target set by Tipperary too high for Cork
IT HARDLY seemed proper that a venue dedicated to the memory of Christy Ring should have been the scene of such a limp Cork performance - against Tipperary, of all teams. Yet the home side became no more than slightly troublesome observers as their traditional rivals swept into clear leadership of Division One in the Church and General National Hurling League at Pairc Ui Rinn yesterday.
Foul weather clearly militated against clean striking but there was considerable significance in the fact that Cork were at their worst when the elements relented in the second half. By that stage, Tipperary were so much in command as to make the outcome entirely predictable.
But for all that, it had the makings of a fascinating battle early on. A fierce, chilling wind, sweeping directly down the pitch from the city end, suggested a contest on similar lines to a one-day cricket match: one team would set as high a target as they could muster and then hope it would be enough for survival.
As it happened, Tipperary were given that role and the target they set was a half-time lead of 1-11 to 0-4. It seemed likely to be more than enough, even if Cork stormed at them with all the fervour associated with these clashes, allowing for the fact that the league wouldn't set pulses racing quite so quickly.
Any concerns Tipperary may have had about that margin, however, were totally unfounded. Indeed, while we anticipated a Cork resurgence, it was the visitors who actually scored first, against the forbidding wind on the resumption. And Tipperary were also next to score. And again after that.
A measure of the remarkable, recent changes that have taken place in both counties is that there were only three survivors in action yesterday from their last meeting in the Munster Championship of 1991. Goalkeeper Ger Cunningham and centre half-back Jim Cashman remained for Cork while Michael Cleary was the only Tipperaryman.
Cork, meanwhile, were hoping for brave deeds from two of last year's victorious minors - Sean Og O hAilpin at right full-back and the diminutive Joe Deane at left corner-forward. As it happened, O hAilpin was under pressure from the start and failed to make a worthwhile impression even when moved to the left. Deane, on the other hand, succeeded in scoring his side's only goal but it was an isolated contribution in a bleak display.
Tipperary had some interesting performances, particularly from their full-back line of Michael Ryan, Paul Shelly and Brian Flannery. Shelly was especially effective in ensuring that the Cork attack were generally kept on an extremely tight leash. Indeed only two of the Cork forwards scored - and three of Brian Corcoran's seven points were from frees.
In sharp contrast, five of Tipperary's six forwards breached the Cork defence. Their goal came in the 18th minute when, from a beautifully-timed pass by Eddie Tucker, the ball went to left corner-forward David Rourke, who picked his spot past the advancing Cunningham. Interestingly, that was when the elements were at their most hostile, with all sorts of misery, including hail and sleet, lashing the players.
When the sun reappeared, Tipperary were leading by 1-9 to 0-4 and well on their way towards unassailable dominance, barring something akin to a hurricane in the second half. In fairness to Cork, the wind actually eased a little but by the time they set about using any advantage they may have had, the challenge had become too great.
Tipperary's task was eased considerably by a dominant midfield of Raymie Ryan and Brian O'Meara and the delightful striking of Cleary, especially from dead-ball situations. Indeed the overall standard of Tipperary's ball-striking was of an appreciably higher quality than their opponents, suggesting that they may yet gain a rich dividend from last year's splendid under-21 side.
Cork, meanwhile, must start building from the back if they are to look to the future with any real optimism. Their full-back line was desperately vulnerable on this occasion. In truth, the entire team struggled, to the extent that even Teddy McCarthy, an inspirational figure from their double-winning side of 1990, was hardly noticeable when coming on as a substitute in the second half. God knows what the great Ring would have made of it all.