Conor Sweeney and Mark Keane were scoring heroes in the Munster semi-finals. INPHO

The late shows of composure, skill and luck that put Cork and Tipperary close to Munster glory

Sunday’s Munster finalists supplied the scoring goods late on to crucial effect in their semi-finals.

A FIRST MUNSTER senior title in eight years or a first in over eight decades?

There is a stark contrast in the barren spells endured by Cork (since 2012) and Tipperary (since 1935) in the Munster senior football arena but the scale of the recent dominance exerted by Kerry means that whoever wins Sunday’s decider will cherish the outcome.

Both were forced to earn the right to participate in the final, rescuing themselves with equalisers near the end of their semi-finals and then grabbing dramatic extra-time winners to knock out Kerry and Limerick.

A closer look at those scores indicates the ingredients of resolve, patience, skill and good fortune that they will hope to draw on this weekend.

Conor Sweeney’s stunning kick from the sideline

Tipperary needed this intervention from their captain to haul them back as they looked set to drop over the edge. When Cian Sheehan nudged Limerick in front 1-12 to 2-8 with a point, the five minutes of injury time that were announced moments later seemed to illustrate Tipperary had sufficient time to work a levelling score.

The problem was in sourcing possession. After Sheehan’s score, Tipperary attacked downfield but forward Liam Boland was penalised for touching the ball on the ground. They then couldn’t get the ball off Limerick, forced to breathe a sigh of relief when Tommie Childs hooked a shot wide after a free was worked short.

Limerick won the subsequent Tipperary kickout and were awarded a free soon after. It took a brilliant turnover by Liam Casey to rip the ball out of Limerick hands and get the ball back for Tipperary. Limerick flooded their defence with bodies and were content to concede fouls around the midfield area.

darragh-treacy-tackles-liam-casey Liam Casey in action for Tipperary against Limerick. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

There was 90 seconds of injury-time left when the momentum shifted to Tipperary and a lot of that credit was down to Bill Maher’s crossfield kickpass and a charging run forward by defender Jimmy Feehan that broke the line. He offloaded to Michael Quinlivan who was fouled, the play subsequently brought back for the free. With Quinlivan hobbling away and Jack Kennedy off the field through injury, the onus fell to Sweeney. He duly obliged as he arced over that glorious shot under immense pressure with 74.43 on the clock. Full-time sounded on the resultant kickout.

The urgency of Maher and Feehan, Quinlivan’s positioning in space on the flank away from the crowded centre and then the skill of Sweeney got Tipperary out of jail.

Mark Collins slots over a free for Cork

Cork fell two points behind Kerry when Killian Spillane pointed in the 67th minute but replied instantly when winning the subsequent kickout, piecing together a nice move that culminated in Luke Connolly spinnig over a shot with his right.

In the 68th minute Spillane got sight of goal again but the ball spilled from his grasp with Kevin Flahive able to gather for Cork. That was the last juncture in normal time when Kerry had meaningful possession as Cork patiently held onto the ball.

At 69.19 on the clock, Connolly had a free about 52 yards from the Kerry goal, David Moran shown a black card for an adjudged trip on Ruairi Deane. Connolly played it short out of his hand, sensing it was outside his range and that hunch was confirmed when he just popped over a free in extra-time from a few yards closer in.

luke-connolly Luke Connolly in action for Cork against Tipperary. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

From that Connolly kick back to defender Sean Meehan, Cork held possession for just under two and a half minutes when Sean Powter was fouled by Gavin White, seconds after Paul Murphy had blocked down the point attempt by the Douglas man.

13 players were involved as they recycled possession – goalkeeper Micheal Martin and Mark Keane, stationed inside near goal, were the only two not to feature – and it took 39 passes before Powter was fouled. They were lucky not to cough up the ball on a few occasions with Kerry’s entire team encamped inside their ’45.

But Cork showed enough composure, trust in their plan and width as they moved the point of their attack around before Collins knocked over the free to tie the teams at 0-10 apiece.

Brian Fox’s match-winner in the Gaelic Grounds

Tipperary’s hopes fluctuated in extra-time. They looked in jeopardy when Donal O’Sullivan’s kick from a ’45 nosed Limerick ahead before Robbie Kiely popped up to level the game.

Then Brian Fox carried it forward and with Limerick players focused on tracking other runners, the pitch opened up for him. He floated over a point from the right after travelling nearly 40 yards with 19:38 on the clock in extra-time.

Tipperary subsequently were left relieved when Seamus O’Carroll skewed his shot in the 21st minute wide after Iain Corbett’s superb kick pass from 65 yards cut out the Premier rearguard cover to set up O’Carroll’s mark. Time was called moments later when Evan Comerford kicked out the ball.

brian-fox-kicks-a-the-winning-point Brian Fox kicks over the winning point for Tipperary. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Fox did not start the game but transpired to supply the priceless score that propelled Tipperary into the final. He showcased the qualities he can bring on the pitch, running from deep, evading the cover and having the confidence to carry before shooting over. 

Cork players present for their 2016 defeat will need little reminding of Fox’s threat. That day in Thurles he scored Tipperary’s third goal while setting up their opening two for the Sweeney-Quinlivan double act with his surging runs from distance prising open the backline.

Mark Keane becomes Cork’s goalscoring hero

The last dramatic touch was supplied by Mark Keane as he booted home a famous goal for Cork. The stunning, mind-scrambling nature of that finale in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is reflected in the fact that at 21 minutes on the clock Luke Connolly took on the shot that seemed Cork’s last effort to draw level, then with 21:06 gone the shot from Keane had nestled in the net for Cork’s match-winner and at 21:20 the final whistle sounded after Shane Ryan’s short kickout to Gavin Crowley to confirm that Kerry were making an early championship exit.

There were similarities to be drawn with Cork’s approach work in extra-time to that at the end of normal time. Again they had to be patient, holding onto possession for 1 minute and 40 seconds in the wake of David Moran’s hoofed effort dropping short and palmed down by goalkeeper Martin. Again it took a multitude of passes, 27 if you include that last Connolly kick which fell into Keane’s lap, and again a wide array of players contributed with 12 outfielders touching the ball during that passage of play.

Cork got a game-breaking goal when searching for a rescuing point but their patience and refusal to panic got them into that position once more. Those are not always characteristics they have demonstrated in a tense conclusion, they’ll be required again at times on Sunday.

And the input of their newcomers could also be critical. Keane’s execution of the goal chance, borrowed from the AFL playbook as explained in detail by team-mate Ciaran Sheehan in a recent Irish Examiner podcast, commanded most of the headlines.

But there was also in the build-up the decisive run by Sean Meehan that finally broke the defensive line, the cool by Damien Gore to resist the temptation to shoot after getting in that close to goal and the tenacity of Tadhg Corkery in winning the physical battle with Paudie Clifford, to regain possession at a stage when a turnover would essentially have won the game for Kerry.

sean-meehan Sean Meehan in action for Cork against Kerry. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Cork enjoyed a decent slice of fortune during the frantic close to normal time and extra-time, similar to the levels Tipperary experienced the previous day.

But there were impressive traits by both sides to chisel out the openings for those crucial scores. It places them within touching distance of a provincial title and then one will stand just a victory away from partaking in the All-Ireland final.

Neither will need to be reminded of the high stakes this Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.


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