Hurling fans from the so-called weaker counties might have had a little giggle in recent days at media assessments of Cork's chances. Bizarrely there has almost been a patronising air to the previews. Old shibboleths of' 'old firm' clashes are being clasped to. We've heard that the underdogs in these matches always rise to the occasion: That Cork hurlers are to the manor born when they hit the pitch in Thurles. But it's indicative of the recent malaise in Cork underage hurling that even the comparison of rebel hurlers to fungi isn't being trotted out as of yore.
Granted some cliches enter the ether because they have a ring of truth. Tipperary and Cork do have some element of an umbilical relationship. Tipp's rivalry with their southern neighbour has rarely had the same enmity as occasionally embitters relations with Limerick and Clare. When the ghosts of Raymond Smith and Jack Lynch travel together on the Heuston train on Sunday they will do so in collegiality. The meas between the teams is such that the superior team often fails to put the other away convincingly. In the 2005 Munster final for example a terrific Cork team almost appeared to take pity on the Premier at half-time.
So why in this instance do the pundits feel there is a decent gulf between the sides. Well it's not based on recent match ups. Cork are unbeaten in three league and championship outings against their old enemy in the last 14 months. Considering it's the fashion these days to treat the league seriously it is odd that Tipp's apparent superiority isn't especially franked by recent league form either. We are of course slightly playing silly buggers in that the side's respective displays against Kilkenny last autumn does indicate a gap in class. But there are a few things to remember about Tipp tomorrow. Firstly They have something to prove at wing back where the redoubtable Declan Fanning has to be replaced. Secondly Brendan Maher comfortably ( lest it be forgotten ) Tipp's most consistent player last season is missing for a game where there has also been an injury cloud over his midfield partner Shane McGrath. The uncertainty of new management has to be factored in. Granted further forward there appears to be an abundance of Premier riches. If Shane Bourke and especially Pa Bourke had plied their wares in a Cork jersey this spring they would doubtless have been integral to a rebel challenge. As it is neither have been able to force themselves in front of Seamus Callinan's somewhat, ahem, enigmatic charms.
Being ultra rational it's hard to make a persuasive case for Cork. Pa Cronin and Cian McCarthy must now come to the fore. Debutant William Egan will need plenty of help against Noel McGrath. A last hurrah for the best out and out wing forward of the last 20 years Ben O' Connor would be exceedingly handy. But something tells us that Cork will play above themselves whilst Tipp may slip below the highest standards. Some may point to Tipp not wanting to be caught with their pants down as they were last year. But the counter argument would be that this Tipp team know the importance of pacing a season. Only one side in Thurles tomorrow is realistic All-Ireland contenders. But they may make heavy weather of it, likely in heavy weather. The import and history of the Cork Tipperary relationship expects nothing less.