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Dublin: 5°C Sunday 17 January 2021

Tipperary's forward stars, the Premier experience is key and how big a setback is this for Cork?

A look at a few key areas that settled yesterday’s Munster football final.

Tipperary and Cork players challenge for possession in yesterday's Munster final.
Tipperary and Cork players challenge for possession in yesterday's Munster final.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

1. The Quinlivan-Sweeney double act

When John O’Rourke popped over a late point for Cork, he became their first forward to reach two from play over the course of the game. It was a damning statistic from Cork’s viewpoint and was thrown into sharp focus by the scoring heroics that were served up at the other end by Tipperary’s main duo.

Ever since their wonderful 2016 journey, big expectations have hovered over Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney. The former was an All-Star that year, the latter went close. Tipperary pushed both of them near goal, Quinlivan had been playing deeper in earlier rounds, and the ploy paid a handsome dividend.

By half-time they had 0-9 between them, that figure had swelled to 0-12 by the finish. Sweeney scored seven with a trio from play, along with a couple of marks and frees. Quinlivan hit 0-5 with four of those from play and two of his efforts from either wing in the opening half were simply stunning strikes. 

That injection of offensive genius to the Tipperary cause was a critical difference, Cork’s entire team only hit two points greater.

michael-quinlivan-emotional-after-the-game An emotional Michael Quinlivan after the game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2. Experience proves crucial to outcome

The tag of favouritism fell Cork’s way beforehand after they had stunned Kerry but that overlooked some key ingredients Tipperary possessed. Plenty recent outings against Cork meant they were informed about what was coming down the tracks and they would not lack belief they could deliver victory, a quality that would have been harder to generate if Kerry had been their opponents.

Crucially this Tipperary side was settled and experienced to the senior championship environment. Conal Kennedy was the only player under the age of 25 in the starting side, two-thirds of the Tipperary team are in their mid-twenties. They are in the prime of their football careers, well conditioned to the physical and mental demands of the inter-county game.

Nine players from the Tipperary team started in the loss to Mayo in the ’16 All-Ireland semi-final, as did Phillip Austin who kicked their last point of this Munster final. The additions included Steven O’Brien, Liam Casey and Colin O’Riordan who added considerable heft to Tipperary’s capacity around the middle.

The contrast was in Cork’s collection of burgeoning players. Their defence was striking in that they started five defenders aged 22 or under while no player numbered one to six  had started in last year’s Munster final. Mattie Taylor was the most experienced and his Cork debut came in 2018.

maurice-shanley-and-robbie-kiely Cork's Maurice Shanley and Tipperary's Robbie Kiely. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Of course that youthful trait provided so much spark to the Cork cause in their win over Kerry and injuries (Clancy, Crowley, Loughrey, O’Donovan and Powter some of the more experienced rearguard names out) forced the hand of management.

But as the contest wore on the more seasoned Tipperary team had a grip on this contest and knew how to close it out to take the honours.

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3. The impact of this setback on Cork

As mentioned earlier the developing nature of this Cork team has to be considered. Take into account the age profile of the team and there were eight players used during the game that are under 22. That points to players for the future who are still raw and learning at this level, albeit Mark Keane’s future availability will be limited given his priority to Collingwood in the AFL. Division 3 promotion is in the bag and they should be exposed to a higher grade of football in whatever shape or form the league takes next spring.

But a lot of that promise and good work is negated by the realisation that this was a glorious opportunity passed up. Cork had done so much hard work in taking Kerry out of the picture, even if it was in a classic smash and grab fashion. Backing good results up has been a consistent problem for Cork football teams and that issue surfaced again here.

There was a plethora of issues – a lack of a scoring threat, the absence of incisive runners, costly handling errors, misfortune with injuries before or during the game – yet ultimately Cork did not cope well with being installed as favourites and the accompanying pressure that brought.

cork-players-dejected-at-the-final-whistle Cork players dejected at the final whistle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Once Tipperary gained a foothold with that second half scoring burst, Cork were chasing the game, a different approach and terms of engagement to what they had faced against Kerry.

Captain Ian Maguire fought admirably to try to salvage the match yet two points was as close as Cork got. An opportunity to land a coveted Munster senior medal slipped away for their older crew, their painful wait for silverware drags on.


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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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