Tipperary will travel to Pairc Uí Rinn on Saturday to take on Cork in the Munster SFC semi-final, and for the first time in recent memory the Premier County head into a football clash against the Rebels as favourites in many people’s minds.
Tipp shocked everyone by beating Cork at the same stage of the championship last year and have progressed further and further with every outing since. Liam Kearns’ side went all the way to an All Ireland semi-final last year and have continued the rising fortunes of big ball within the county by clinching promotion to Division 2 and winning the Division 3 final in Croke Park this spring.
For Cork, on the other hand, it seems as though the county’s footballers are on a downward spiral and have been since their All Ireland win in 2010. A season which saw them relegated from Division 1 of the National League in 2016 and going on to fall short against Tipp in Munster before failing to reach the All Ireland quarter-final stage has been followed up this year so far with failing to gain promotion out of Division 2, having headed into the final round of games still not fully safe from back-to-back relegations, and a substandard display against Waterford in the Munster SFC quarter-final, scraping past the Déise by a single point.
Whatever has gone wrong for the Rebels of late, they have the opportunity to still put right. A victory over The Premier this weekend would set up a Munster final date with Kerry in the new Pairc Uí Chaoimh, something for football folk on Leeside to be excited about.
Tipperary manager, Kearns, insists that the pressure is on Cork to get a result on Saturday.
He sat down with Pundit Arena ahead of this weekend’s fixture.
Reflecting on his team’s successful league campaign earlier this year, the Tipp boss acknowledged what a feat it was to clinch that dramatic promotion with Michael Quinlavin’s last minute goal in Armagh.
“We were delighted with the league. We lost Peter Acheson and Ciarán McDonald, who were huge players for us, at the start of the league campaign. So, it was important that we blooded a lot of new players.
“We brought 17 new players into the league panel and there was an awful lot of players who got their chance and in the end we won the league and won promotion, so we’ve got to be pleased with it.”
Following on from his side’s successful 2016, there was a weight of expectation on his players to deliver again this year and to further improve on last year’s showing. How does he think they have dealt with this expectation so for this season?
“We just had to get on with it. We realised that we had to add some depth to our squad so we brought in 17 new players from around the county, which is too many really, but we just felt we had to look at as many players as we could.
“In fairness, it was sink or swim time for a lot of them and a lot of them have swam and that’s good from our point of view,” said Kearns.
“So, we dealt with the expectations and managed to get a result and at the same time we’ve been gearing our preparations towards the Munster semi-final and that’s the next challenge.”
The Tipp manager is fully aware of the threat a group of wounded Rebels can pose to his side. Despite the poor form the opposition come into Saturday evening’s encounter, in the former Limerick and Laois boss’s mind, Cork are favourites heading into this weekend’s clash.
“I would say Cork are very, very dangerous and all the advantages are with them this time.
“They have us at home, we had them at home last year. They have the motivation of trying to redress the balance as regards the result last year. So, I would say the advantages are with Cork this year.
“They’ve played at a higher level than what we did this year as well.
“When you factor in that we’re missing two huge players, we got away with it in Division 3 in the league but for championship level, these types of players, Peter Acheson, they don’t grow on trees. Along with Ciarán McDonald, I would consider them the best two players to ever play for Tipperary.
“So, the advantages are with Cork and it’ll be a big challenge for us to go and win that game,” Kearns concluded.