Very strange goings on in Cork. Loads of excited patrons milling around jubilant players and management under the covered stand in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. In April, nay very early April. Okay it's no harm to smite the old enemy, ( wrong term perhaps as their relationship has often struck outsiders as rather chummy ) even well before the hay is saved. Perhaps Cork's enthusiasm was inevitable considering recent militancy may leave the squad feeling they have something to prove. Plus although a 'league hero' mightn't be high on the list of something to be, Cork haven't grasped the trophy since 1998. The ancien regimes have in most cases not wanted to downplay the importance of the league in any event. The exception was Tipp, in the era, around the turn of the century, when the Munster draw provided them with annual cage matches against Clare. This led to one captain ( was it Tommy Dunne in Ennis ) taking a tentative hold on the cup like it was something toxic. In fairness to the Premier, Nicky English's management team set the modern precedent in 2001 for what a good habit winning in the spring can be. However the current Tipperary incarnation lost this league tussle ultimately in the first 15 minutes, as, with the sleep still in their eyes, Cork set about their task at a championship pace.
The presence of an out and out ball-winning half forward mightn't, on the evidence of last September, be as crucial to Tipp's cause as it appeared heretofore. But the rangy athleticism of Pat Kerwick and John O' Brien for the full 70 was, at least, subtly missed. It was instructive though, if its ever deemed necessary, that Lar Corbett did a much better impression of a stand up centre forward than Seamus Callinan ever does. Taking hints from the spring is always fraught with danger, but up against Cork's hall of fame half back line in full tilt, Noel McGrath, flanking Corbett, looked a little callow for the task yet, and might still be advantaged, in the main, by tilting at the ramparts of defences from corner forward come the summer. Still though he took his scores with insouciant ease and combined sublimely with Corbett on a couple of occasions, one brilliant exchange resulting in a terrific save by Cork's valiant stand-in goalie Martin Coleman. At right corner forward on this occasion Paul Kelly, in some respects, presented a career in microcosm, by ghosting in for a stylish 1-2 when Tipp were lording it early in the second half, before returning to anonymity; a state of affairs he will sadly now remain in for the summer because of subsequent injury. Overall though Liam Sheedy will scarcely lose sleep by being on the wrong end of the hop of a ball. For instance, corner back has been a quiet sore point for Tipperary at times in recent years, but Paddy Stapleton showed much of the skills required for the unheralded art, not least the ability to effect last ditch interceptions.
Cork will always get more press clippings for beating Tipp than they will for besting Dublin: But many of the same attributes were on show here. Brian Murphy, on return to his recognised patch at corner back, evinced, along with his namesakes Shane O' Neill and Shane Murphy, that Cork have three reliable and occasionally ( in O'Neill's case) flamboyant full-back line players. Whether one can be moulded into a full-back is a pertinent question now in light of Eoin Cadogan's untimely injury. With Tom Kenny's almost princely excellence again to the fore Cork's 1-9 seems to be in almost as good a shape as it was a half decade ago, although the faster ground and increased tempo may tell us more. Overall though there is still the nagging impression that the defence and midfield may need to be dominant to cope with the fact that forward options have to be carefully husbanded. Pat Horgan again thrust himself forward as a player aching for summer responsibility. His terrific goal aside he also ploughed plenty of the hard yards. Aisake too brings at the very least nuisance value, but one suspects he may end up having an onerous responsibility to win possession at half forward in the summer, which may not be the most optimum use of his talents. It was also disappointing how meek Paidi O' Sullivan's goal efforts were, as one suspects it would be a penchant for poaching that would make him indispensable for Denis Walsh. Still though there is more than enough on show, thus far, to indicate that Cork could benefit from any slight slippage from Tipp, or a further tarnishing of Kilkenny's gold standard. Given the labour disputes of recent years and the lack of bountiful under-age crops, it is, for the more realistic supporters Leeside, enough to be going along with.