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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

John Gardiner: Cork needed to do something drastic after last year, but nobody saw this coming’s columnist reflects on Cork’s brilliant victory over All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Thurles.

IF YOU WERE looking at which dressing room you’d want to be in before this match, you’d have to say it was the Tipperary one.

Seamus Callanan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Tipp were coming off the back of an All-Ireland win, after having a fairly successful league campaign. They even got the kick they needed in the league final defeat to Galway. I felt Michael Ryan’s men arrived into Semple Stadium in a far better position than their opponents.

Then you assess the Cork dressing room. They shipped a lot of criticism after last year’s performances and they had good few young guys that you didn’t really know how they were going to perform on the big stage. They were coming off the back of an okay league – they had good wins over Tipperary and Waterford – so there was potential there.

But nobody saw this performance coming.

Coming up to the game, I felt a lot of the criticism surrounding this Cork team wasn’t justified. They definitely used it to give them that extra edge.

Diarmuid O'Sullivan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It was a risk for Cork to bring in the five newcomers to play, but in certain ways Kieran Kingston had no choice but to go with the young fellas. They had to do something drastic after last year’s performances and defeats. It was out of necessity that he had to bring on the young fellas but credit to him, he’s after moulding them into the players they are.

There’s massive potential in the Rebels camp. One game is not going to make their careers but today will give them massive confidence going into the next day.

Colm Spillane had an excellent game at corner-back. He caught two nice balls in the first-half and that settled him down. Outside of Conor Lehane, I thought Mark Coleman was Cork’s best player.

He was outstanding. The difference between him and the other backs was he seemed to be able to read it a bit better. Every time he got the ball, he seemed to have more space than anyone else and his composure with his deliveries in was top class. For a guy making his debut, he looked very composed and gave a huge display.

Cork brought Luke Meade to give them three around the middle and it really helped them. That allowed young Darragh Fitzgibbon to run forward and he had a fine game.

Then you look at the forwards. Shane Kingston took a while to get going but when he did he ended up with 1-4 from play. You’d take that from a half-forward all day long.

Shane Kingston Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

That brings us to Lehane. He was excellent and centre-forward is the right position for him. The points he took today were typical of Conor Lehane when he’s on-song: winning his own possession, taking his man on. Ronan Maher was the All-Star centre-back last year but when Lehane ran at him he just had no answers. Eventually Maher was moved off him.

I thought Kieran Kingston’s decision to put Lehane on the frees was huge. Lehane is a confidence guy and when he gets on the scoreboard early that allows him to drive on. He got a couple of early points, I think the first one was a free, and from there he started to grow in confidence. He even could have ended up with 13 or 14 points as he had a couple of wides that he might have expected to stick over. That just shows the amount of ball he got on.

The reverse of Lehane taking the frees was it took pressure off Patrick Horgan. It freed him up to get a few points from play and he ended up with four. For me, Hoggy is the best free-taker on the Cork panel so it was obviously a tactical decision to give Lehane a bit of confidence.

It was also Kieran’s way of saying to Patrick, ‘You’re not going to get a handy free to keep you going. You’re going to have to work that extra bit harder.’

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That move really paid off.

Patrick Horgan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

For all the Cork forwards to score after 20 minutes was a massive bonus and it was clear none of the young lads were suffering from stage fright.

It’s going to be tough for Tipp to come back from this defeat, but it’s a long way from Thurles in May to Croke Park in September.

In Tipperary, the minute they win one All-Ireland they seem to start talking about back-to-back All-Irelands. That puts pressure on the players straight away.

When you win the All-Ireland, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the winter. You go away on a team holiday, you come back and you’re going around to the clubs with the cup.

Before you know it the league comes along. One season seems to just roll into the next. You have a monkey on your back straight away because everybody wants to beat the champions.

The Tipperary team celebrate Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Kilkenny got so used to it that it just became part and parcel, but for a team that only wins one every so often it’s different.

My feeling was the defeat to Galway would refocus Tipperary. They played well, but Cork outfought them is was the biggest concern for Michael Ryan.

Cork will be on a high for a week, but there’s still a long road ahead. They’ll gain serious momentum from this, but Kieran Kingston and his management team are well aware that one swallow never made a summer. Consistency is the main thing for Cork and there’s no guarantee they’ll play that well again.

The Tipp defence couldn’t live with the Cork forwards and if Kingston’s attacking unit continue to hurl like that, they’re going to have a decent summer.

Michael Cahalane celebrates a late score Cork goalscorer Michael Cahalane Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

A final word on Michael Cahalane, who bagged a key goal off the bench today. A few years ago he was told he’d never play hurling again. After being out for so long, it was great to see him make such an important contribution.

I bet rifling that goal past Darren Gleeson was some feeling.

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About the author:

John Gardiner

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