The second All-Ireland Hurling semi-final takes is set to take place. Cork and Tipperary go toe to toe with a place in the final against Kilkenny at stake. Sean Cremin is here to look ahead to the clash.
Cork and Tipperary are ready to take their long lasting rivalry to Croke Park for the first ever time. Their Munster championship rivalry stretches back over numerous decades and while they have met in qualifier matches before, this is the first All-Ireland semi-final meeting between the two. Many chapters have already been written from the battles between both sides and now the pen is ready for what could be one of the most significant chapters.
Needless to say, both sides will be desperate to win in what will be a huge game. The semi-final between Kilkenny and Limerick provided an intriguing battle and many would say a missed opportunity for Limerick. Conditions were horrific, yet both sides managed to put on a great game of high skill and intensity. ‘Goals win matches’, was the order of the day as Kilkenny’s two green flags saw them edge past TJ Ryan’s men.
So a game with Kilkenny is at stake to decide who will get their hands on the Liam McCarthy Cup. Cork are Munster champions. Silverware was a big thing for this Cork side having not won any trophy since 2006. Provincial titles are a good way for building teams to gain confidence and momentum and the joyous scenes at Páirc Uí Chaoimh from players and supporters illustrated this.
Tipperary deserve credit for their season so far. After a poor 2013 championship season, they started the 2014 league very poorly. They stumbled over the line against Dublin which put them in a quarter-final instead of a relegation final and their season has improved from there. Their championship defeat to Limerick led to more questions being asked, but they have bounced back to get into an All-Ireland semi-final.
People are saying that Tipperary are yet to be tested in this year’s championship. They lost to Limerick and came back to defeat Galway, Offaly and Dublin. Look at it another way. Who are the teams that Kilkenny have defeated in this year’s championship? All of the above. Yet Kilkenny are being taken significantly more seriously than this Tipperary side.
Whatever about the quality of the sides they have beaten, Tipperary have shown character this year, a trait that was highly questioned. We questioned on this website whether they were simply good enough to compete with the best teams. They played well against Limerick but still came up short. The fact that they are now one of three teams left in the championship suggests that they are good enough.
The main thing that Tipperary have done is played to their strengths. Their ball winning ability or lack of is well documented. This can be a massive problem if they play a direct game, but when Tipperary are playing well they compensate for this. Their forwards are constantly moving and ball is delivered into spaces where the likes of Seamus Callanan, Lar Corbett and John O’Dwyer can then do damage.
Two other players have finally returned to form and again are playing to their strengths. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher has finally returned to his effective best and he is playing to the best of his ability. His ball winning and direct running have been to the fore this season and he has now added scores as well as assists to his game. He brings the balance to the Premier attack and is a huge player for them.
Noel McGrath has also shown glimpses of a return to his best. He is finally being positioned further out the field and is pulling the strings as he did so effectively when Tipperary won the All-Ireland in 2010. The style of play is the most encouraging thing from a Tipperary point of view. They are playing a brand of hurling that allows them to outscore teams. Physical battles do not suit Tipperary neither do direct high balls into their forward line. Since the Limerick game, they simply have played to their strengths.
Cork surprised a lot of people last year by appearing in an All-Ireland final, and while it would have been lucky, they were only a matter of seconds away from winning the title. The challenge for Cork was how they were going to improve. Jimmy Barry-Murphy has boosted his stock as a manager even more by improving the Cork hurling side.
The additions have been a big factor in Cork’s season so far. Aidan Walsh was a player that Cork hurlers have been missing out on for many years and he is now showing the hurling public what they have been missing out on. Alan Cadogan has been excellent all season and further additions like Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan have also strengthened the competition for places within the panel and Cork now look stronger.
Cork looked vulnerable at stages in Croke Park last year and it will be interesting to see if they go for an open shoot out or if they will try and keep things a bit tighter. An open high scoring may well be Cork’s best way of playing but it also suits Tipperary. Their last league game finished 3-25 to 4-19 in favour of Tipperary. A scoreline like that in an All-Ireland semi-final is hard to imagine.
Tipperary have talent up front but their defence is suspect. Galway and Limerick exposed a number of weaknesses and the same could be said for Cork. Overall it is a very even game and a hard one to call. Both teams appear to have similar strengths and weaknesses.
Seamus Callanan’s record against Cork is very good. He is the key man. If he delivers then Tipperary will have a better chance of winning. He has answered a lot of the questions that have been asked of him and now Croke Park is his next test.
The middle third will dictate and Cork look to have an advantage here. The Cork duo of Aidan Walsh and Daniel Kearney looks stronger and the Cork half-back line has improved with Lorcán McLoughlin moving back along with Mark Ellis now at centre-back. So whoever gets on top here providing a better platform for their forwards could well give themselves a better platform for success.
It is a tough game to call by Cork look the slightly better team and have been a bit more impressive than Tipperary in their games this season. It promises to be a close affair. If conditions are good and both teams play open hurling then we could be in store for a cracker. Cork and Tipperary games are always close but Cork are being tipped to edge this one.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena