Best not be afraid of the dark because Cork and Tipperary may shoot the lights out on Sunday.
Both sides have had their highs and lows in 2012 but we saw in the drawn league game in Thurles — 1-23 apiece — that this rivalry can produce some riveting, high-scoring hurling.
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The Rebels won the league semi-final between the teams a few weeks later by outshooting the Premier 1-7 to 0-1 down the stretch but the story does not end there.
No, because Tipperary showed against Limerick that they too are a team for the long road as they arm-wrestled a result back from the edge of defeat by forcing 14 of the final 18 shots at the Treaty posts. By doubling their score from 1-10 to 2-20 in the final 15 minutes. That dominance eventually told, as did the cavalry.
Tipperary brought on three All Stars that day and arguably each of them warrants a starting berth in this Munster semi-final. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher worries defences because of his why-go-around-the-wall-when-I-can-go-through-it approach. Shane McGrath has had plenty of doubters but he looks to be moving well and that’s key, so his pace and experience push James Woodlock to the bench.
The big shock is in who has been omitted. Eoin Kelly, Lar Corbett and Seamus Callanan — the men who scored 13 of Tipp’s 16 championship goals last season. A trio that comprised 66% of Tipp’s scores in the Munster championship last term (62% of Tipp’s total from play) and 60% in the championship overall (45% from play).
Essentially, it’s all set up for another cavalry charge in the second half but why leave your paciest forwards — Corbett and Callanan, in particular — on the bench when that’s exactly what you’ve been missing. Accepted, Lar is only back but it’s not as if he was recovering from injury, he’s good to go. Kelly’s omission is a surprise too and partly because Tipp have lined out with so few natural inside forwards.
Those who doubt Callanan’s worth seem to forget he was in line to be Hurler of the Year in 2011 until Gary Maguire’s footblock kept Dublin alive in the All-Ireland semi-final. Again, the Drom-Inch man missed a great goal chance against the Treaty but there always was a sense that his pace and power would create such a breakthrough if he came on. He may not always put the chances away but he’ll score as many as he misses.
You can’t live without speed. Lots of it. Just look at the forwards Tipp started against Limerick — Gearoid Ryan, Noel McGrath, Pa Bourke; Kelly, Brian ‘Buggy’ O’Meara and John O’Brien — and ask yourself how many have the speed of Callanan. Indeed how many have the pace of Conor Lehane, Jamie Coughlan or Cathal Naughton? Not many, which is why Declan Ryan needed to vary his selections to have the best of every world, and continue to alternate his game plan between high road to low road. Which is why Cork may have the edge.
The bookies see Tipperary as slight favourites down in Cork but it would be naïve to predict the outcome with any real confidence. It’s a close rivalry and the aggregate championship score between the sides in the past 25 years puts Cork just a single point ahead.
Even outside the Cork-Tipp rivalry, one need only look at recent history to see how difficult it is to consistently win in Munster.
While Cork, Tipperary and Waterford have won every title since 1999, all five competing counties have been in a provincial final since 2007.
Since the turn of the century, winning at least one game in Munster in consecutive years has been tough. As for winning at least one game in three or more seasons running, only Tipperary (2000-02), Waterford
(2002-04) and Cork (2003-07) have managed to do so. Good legs are needed for regular hurdling.
Jimmy-Barry Murphy’s presence at the helm is a massive bonus for the Rebels, and that should only add to what will be a raucous atmosphere at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Their league form is much improved from last year too. In 2011, Cork lost four league games by a single point but this year they’ve won a few by two points or less and lost just once before Kilkenny clattered them by 14 points in the league final.
A bitter pill and one that Tipperary tasted when losing the league semi. As such, you could make a case for either team feeling a little fragile. As reigning Munster and dethroned All-Ireland champions, Tipperary have got that more recent winning experience.
What they also have is something closer to last year’s championship team than they ever fielded in the league — when on average less than half of their All-Ireland final team of 2011 started each game. Cork excelled in the league with effectively their championship side, now we’ll see if they’ve peaked too early.
In 2010, we saw Denis Walsh briefly play Aisake Ó hAilpín at full-forward on Paudie Maher to test the water and, when it felt good, he saved it for a Munster ambush.
This year, Barry-Murphy watched Lehane struggle against Maher on the wing before scoring a goal on Paul Curran in at 14; don’t be shocked to see that move materialise. Particularly against a full-back line that – without man-marker Paddy Stapleton – struggled so badly against the pace of Limerick’s Sean Tobin and Graeme Mulcahy.
Cork have realigned the defence too with full-back Stephen McDonnell, who was exposed by the power and direct nature of Eoin Larkin in the league final, ousted by Brian Murphy; no doubt with the physical battle against Buggy in mind. Tom Kenny starts at five with both Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and John Gardiner in reserve. Up front, Lehane was always going to be back on the wing but the absence of Niall McCarthy necessitated that.
For Tipp, it’s a worry to see Noel McGrath named at corner-forward because he averaged 0-5 from number 11 in play during the league.
McGrath owes Cork one down on Leeside after 2010, no more so than Buggy who had a torrid championship debut there that day. He, and Pa Bourke too, has been a revelation in the league so it seems the plus points are there for Tipp.
But if Cork come out with more intensity than Tipperary, something that has been a massive issue for the Premier, then it could easily swing the way of the Rebels.
The teams are evenly split among their last eight championship meetings but Tipperary have won four of the last five. It could be five in six but it depends on whether Ryan’s selections leave the cavalry with too high a mountain to climb. Now how many Cork stewards does it take to change a light blub?
Recent winning margins in championship hurling
2004 – Cork by 6
2005 – Cork by 5
2006 – Cork by 3
2007 – Tipp by 1
2008 – Tipp by 6
2009 – Tipp by 3
2010 – Cork by 10
2011 – Tipp by 8