With recent talk of a lack of serious competitors for Kilkenny in the championship and the abandonment of the provincial series for the good of the game, the Cork – Tipperary encounter at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday was just the right tonic to illustrate the unique atmosphere of the Munster Hurling championship.
Thurles witnessed a competitive and entertaining game between Clare and Waterford last week, a game that will be remembered more for the choice language of Davy Fitzgerald that was caught on camera than the action on the pitch. The 89th clash of Cork and Tipperary was expected to be a step-up in skill and intensity, and the 32, 568 supporters that packed into the Leeside venue certainly got full value for their money.
Right from the off the sense of occasion was palpable among the players, referee Brian Gavin from Offaly had to delay the throw-in to administer yellow cards to Cathal Naughton and Padraic Maher. Some of the core skills displayed throughout the contest were a joy to watch. Plucking Anthony Nash’s long puck out clean from the sky, Pa Cronin turned and hit the ball straight between the posts for an outstanding score. Shane McGrath and Lorcan McLoughlin had a fascinating battle in midfield, both covering every blade of grass on the pitch. Bonner Maher at centre-forward for Tipp was as industrious as ever, and his over-head catch in the lead up to the only goal of the game was one of the spectacular moments of the match. Both sets of forwards had their markers in varying degrees of difficulty, with the Tipp full-back line making several positional switches in the opening 35 minutes.
The hooking and blocking was prominent throughout the course of the game, while the free-taking of Pa Bourke and Patrick Horgan was flawless from anywhere inside the 60 metre range. The sending off of John O’Brien added to the drama of the game, but in the end Tipp’s experience saw them through. Substitutes such as Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly illustrate the strength of the current Tipp panel. Cork’s young troops fell just short, but will be confident going into the home qualifier against Offaly that a similar display would be enough to see them advance.
With facile victories for Kilkenny, Limerick and Wexford already in the hurling championship this summer, Cork and Tipperary served up a real humdinger and one can only hope to see more games as competitive and as skilful before the season draws to a close.