Cork and Tipperary meet in the opening round of the Munster Championship, one year on from the Rebels’ capitulation against the Premier at the same stage. It was a game that set the tone for the rest of the summer; Tipp went on to claim a 27th All-Ireland title, while Cork exited the championship tamely at the hands of Wexford.
Twelve months on, what has changed?
To be fair, it was a fruitful League campaign for Kieran Kingston’s side. Blooding in new talent while remaining competitive is the goal for any side in the spring, and this was achieved.
Mark Coleman, Luke Meade, Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbon all made an impact, and will push for starting berths.
Wins over Clare, Waterford and Tipp sent them to a quarter-final, where they lost to Limerick. Three wins from six against top tier opposition is by no means disappointing for where this Cork side are at.
Throughout the spring, it was clear that Kingston and his management team were looking to implement a more expansive gameplan; working to their own strengths rather than trying to contain the opposition.
A two-man full forward line of Alan Cadogan and Conor Lehane worked at times, with ball played into the open space suiting the pace of the Douglas and Midleton clubmen.
Meade’s aerial ability complements that of Seamus Harnedy, as ball-winners in the half-forward line is something that has been lacking over the past two years.
The fullback line is still an area that needs work, and although they limited the number of opposition green flags throughout the campaign, the Premier fired three past Anthony Nash in Páirc Uí Rinn.
Meaningful contributions from Patrick Horgan in open play is a must if they are to challenge the top sides in the coming months.
The League final will have offered food for thought on Lee-side, as the Tribesmen cut off the flow to the heart of this Tipp team; the half-forward line. In Mark Ellis, Christopher Joyce and Coleman, the Rebels have a line that are capable of getting on top.
The shadow of last year’s drubbing is very much looming over this tie, but selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan isn’t concerned with the past.
“Last year is gone. We’re not in the habit of looking back.
“We have a good group of lads, we’ve had a positive League campaign to date. If we can bring some of that to the table, well and good for us.”
What are their chances?
The prospect of facing the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard is a daunting one, but how difficult is it? Looking at the Premier’s record there, one would not hold out much hope for this Cork side.
The last two teams to beat Tipp in the Championship at Semple Stadium were Limerick (2014) and Cork (2006), both of whom were serious All-Ireland contenders.
Is the Rebel class of 2017 there yet? League form would suggest not. There were hugely promising signs throughout the spring, particularly the manner in which they put back-to-back wins against Munster’s two top teams in Waterford and Tipperary.
However, this is a Premier team with a point to prove. The biggest losers at the Gaelic Grounds as Galway won the League title were not Tipp, but Cork. Michael Ryan’s charges have had their off-day, and it is out of their system.
It is difficult to see the All-Ireland champions flopping to such a major degree once again.
Too much, too soon
This Cork team is coming along nicely, and one would quietly fancy them if they were playing against Waterford, Limerick or Clare in a neutral venue. But Tipp, in Thurles, are an entirely different proposition.
The Rebels are a work in progress, don’t write them off and they could have something to say later in the summer, but it looks like it will be the qualifier route once again.
Make sure to check out the latest episode of The 16th Man podcast, where we hear from Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Padraic Maher ahead of Tipperary vs Cork.