The GAA summer championship got into full swing this weekend with the beginning of the Leinster and Ulster Football Championships. This weekend sees the ante rise straight away as Cork and Tipperary, two of hurling’s traditional heavyweights face off in the Munster Hurling Championship.
In certain ways, it is great to see a big game come on the public so quickly. The current structure of the GAA championships have led to long delays in interest and intensity to really develop over the last few years, but the draw pitting Tipperary and Cork against each other in Thurles this Sunday may help to get things moving quicker than normal.
Tipp and Cork will always provide something for supporters and neutrals to observe. Such a rivalry has been built up between both sides over decades that both will be desperate to win and take momentum forward with them into the rest of the summer. On the flip side, defeat for either side will lead to heavy criticism and some potential soul searching.
League form has been the main barometer for people to look at ahead of the game. On this basis Tipp are understandable favourites coincided with their most recent record against the Rebels. Tipp have held the upper hand over Cork since 2008 when they won in Páirc Uí Chaoímh for the first time in years.
Since then Cork have only managed one victory over the Premier men. They provided a major shock in 2010 when they beat Tipp down in the ‘Páirc’ but Tipp went on to win the All-Ireland that year, very much giving themselves the last laugh.
The main thing that stands out about the current Cork and Tipperary sides is the sheer amount of uncertainty that accompanies both sets of players and management. Both teams have shown indifferent form of late. They have had their critics and their admirers.
At times they have looked like potential All-Ireland champions, and at times they have looked poor; hence the title of this article.
Tipperary were quoted as being hurlings greatest mystery on these pages a few weeks ago. Despite their endless levels of pace and skill, Tipp have still been managing to lose games from winning positions. Most people would say that when Tipperary click into top gear, they look impossible to stop, but this hasn’t led to much success.
The quality of their forwards and the depth of scores they have in their side would put fear into any opposition. But there is something lacking in Tipp that gives all other counties hope. What it is cannot be pinpointed by this writer, as was mentioned in an in-depth analysis during the league.
They appear to have the talent but there are so many questions that Tipp will only answer if they manage to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup in September. Their quest to answer all of the above questions begins against Cork on Sunday.
Cork’s form over the last 18 months has been up and down and due to high media coverage, they have come under a lot of scrutiny. Having reached an All-Ireland final in 2013, a Munster title in 2014 saw them as many people’s favourites to win the All-Ireland that year. Cork met Tipp in the All-Ireland semi-final that year and Tipp gave them a lesson.
Since then crisis talks have unfolded and their performances have been up and down. A lot has been said about Cork. The underage debate continues to crop up while others have started to wonder are they just not very good.
The most staggering thing about Cork is that the same weaknesses seem to appear time after time. They concede too much, they set up far too open and while they have good forwards, it is too much of an ask to expect them to put almost 30 points on the board in each game between points and goals.
In this writer’s opinion, the main issue with Cork is their game plan. For the last 2-3 years, they have been a team without a plan or even a style of play. It worked in 2013 when their skill, energy and team work was able to counteract the physical game that had become the norm.
But tactics have been an important part of hurling in the last few years and Cork have fallen a long way short in that department. The most recent league campaign has led to a lot of people writing off Cork. It is understandable based on their performances, but they pulled two very impressive performances out of the bag against Kilkenny and Galway.
Those performances will always put question marks in people’s heads. Does anybody really know what Cork will show up on Sunday? Again, there are so many question marks.
One would think that all followers are hoping for a good game on Sunday. After a very poor 2015, everyone wants to see an improvement for 2016. There are few better ways to kick off a season than Tipp v Cork in Thurles.
Let’s hope that both teams will bring the passion and skill to the table, the sort that has created this great rivalry. The smart money is on Tipp based on recent history, but one has to wonder what will happen if Cork bring their A-game to the home of hurling.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.