Tipperary's greater strength in depth likely to prove decisive

 

HURLING ANALYST:Cork are building for the future but on paper look too inexperienced to topple their great rivals

WHATEVER about the impact of the venue on the Dublin/Kilkenny game, I don’t think you can say Páirc Uí Chaoimh doesn’t have a positive effect on Cork – especially tomorrow given Tipperary’s poor record there. That venue advantage combines with the second coming of manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy, which has re-energised the supporters and returned the team to playing in a more traditionally ‘Cork’ style.

If you take the league final out of it, I was impressed by the attitude of the team and the way the management went about the business of finding new players and blending them in – particularly Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam and, to an extent, Luke O’Farrell. However I’m not sure about the team selection. I’ve had a gut feeling all year Cork were going to win this game but it has faded as time has gone by and at this stage is just about gone.

The team selection is surprising. Stephen McDonnell was troubled in the league final at full back and is now dropped despite having looked impressive in the league up until that last match. In his defence you’d have to say that any full back behind a team that’s getting beaten everywhere is going to be in trouble even without an opponent in such devastating form as Eoin Larkin has been.

Now Cork are effectively going without a full back and that leaves them vulnerable, as Tipperary are sure to test them in the air using Brian O’Meara and John O’Brien.

McDonnell might have been a work in progress but there wasn’t anyone else groomed for the position all year.

I think they’ll have put the league final behind them and it might even fast-track the experience levels for some. It wasn’t a fair indication of where they are as they seemed to suffer from stage fright with Pa Horgan and Martin Coleman failing to rise the ball for early frees. Then they panicked and you knew when Horgan was going for goals 30 metres out and into the breeze that it had all gone pear-shaped for them on the day.

There was a Jekyll and Hyde quality to Tipperary in the last round against Limerick – and more Hyde than Jekyll – and but for Shane McGrath’s and, more particularly, Bonner Maher’s arrival they were in big trouble, unable to win ball in the half forwards or at midfield just like in the bad old days. In mitigation, neither of Tipp’s best players there over the past two years, Maher and Lar Corbett, started and the team selection has moved things on a bit for tomorrow.

Another worry for Tipp is the form of the young players who were so instrumental in the 2010 successes – Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Gearóid Ryan, Michael Cahill and to a lesser extent, Pádraic Maher. For a lot of last year they were in top gear, apart from Brendan Maher who was injured, but against Limerick last month they weren’t near it.

Maybe as they become more experienced and aware of what happened two years ago they appreciate the need to go up the gears as the summer progresses rather than be too ready too early. Last year they peaked for the Munster final and then went backwards, which contrasts with 2009 and particularly ’10 when they spluttered through the championship before radically improving in August.

There’s been a lot of coverage of Eoin Kelly not making the team. It would certainly be a loss if this signifies the end for him but I’m more inclined to see it as a new way of using him in what is now a 20-man game. He’s by no means old but he has been on the go for a long time and always under the pressure of being expected to deliver.

I remember his first start was in a serious championship match for us in 2001, against Clare. He was 19 and for his first touch was met by a combination of Seánie McMahon and Ollie Baker trying to put him up into the stand but he shrugged it off and nailed a difficult free (his first) shortly afterwards.

I can see him making an impact coming into a game because even with diminished mobility he has strength, touch and accuracy to exploit the looser play. It can extend his playing career by a couple of years.

The bench played a big role in defeating Limerick and with some of those players starting, the presence of Eoin Kelly, Lar Corbett – nearly ready for a run – and Shane Bourke maintains the strong reserve bench that gives Declan Ryan better options than Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

Tipperary don’t need to win this as much and may not be too concerned at having to go through the qualifiers but it would be more of a blow for Cork who have surely targeted a win here. Cork are building for the future but on paper look too inexperienced.

They’re better than they showed in the league final but when the crunch comes tomorrow, Tipperary, for all the underperforming and inconsistencies to date will be that bit better again.

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