WHEN the Cork hurlers faced Tipperary last Saturday, they certainly respected them as reigning All-Ireland champions, but they also made the mistake of fearing them too much.
The result was that, when Tipp upped their game in the second half and took the fight to Cork, the Cork spirit wilted and shrivelled under pressure. Fear of the opposition got to them, easy to understand when Cork had only beaten Tipp once in the championship in the past 10 years.
Harder to understand was the fear that Kerry had of Cork footballers in the Munster semi-final. Cork had scored three goals in the Munster final against Kerry in 2019 and the fear of a repeat resulted in a performance that was far too defensive and out of sync with the type of football they had been playing previously. They paid dearly for allowing that fear to dictate their tactics.
So what of Cork footballers in this Munster senior football final? Do they fear the Tipperary men because of recent results or do they merely respect them for closing the large gap that once existed between Cork and Kerry and the other Munster counties?
After last weekend’s hurling games, somebody commented to us that losing games they should be winning has now become part of the Cork hurling DNA, while, with Kilkenny the very opposite is true. They have been winning games they should be losing because winning is now part of the Kilkenny hurling DNA under Brian Cody.
Where stand Cork footballers in the fear stakes as they face Tipperary and what DNA do they possess?
Time was when Cork footballers faced Tipp with the knowledge that, unless something disastrous was going to happen, they would definitely advance to the Munster final. In those years, the Munster finals were played in Cork or Killarney every second year because of the certainty of the pairing, the Rebels against the Kingdom.
We were able to plan for the bi-annual trip to Killarney well in advance and it became the biggest outing of the year for many Cork football fans. Tipperary were but a stepping stone to the final.
Now and again, there was a surprise, such as Kerry’s defeat by Waterford in 1957 and Cork’s defeat by Limerick in 1965. Only once in the past 50 years has a team outside Cork or Kerry managed to win the Munster title, back in 1992, when Clare surprised Kerry in the final after beating Tipp in the semi-final. An open draw was introduced in Munster in 1991, giving the lesser counties a better chance to reach the final.
Tipp have reached only four finals in the past 50 years, while Cork have contested 44 of those finals. Tipp’s last appearance was in 2016 and their last of nine title wins came in distant 1935, when they beat Cork by 2-8 to 1-2 in the final.
Tipp’s last victory over Cork came in the semi-final in 2016 when they won by 3-15 to 2-16. The game took place in Semple Stadium on June 12th and was watched by only 2,734 supporters.
Tipp hadn’t beaten Cork since 1944, when Cork were reigning Munster champions. Cork atoned by winning the All-Ireland the following year, 1945, captained by Clon’s Tadhgo Crowley, the first time the Sam Maguire Cup came to Cork.
From the present Cork team Mark Collins, (2-1) Paul Kerrigan (0-3), Brian Hurley (0-1), John O’Rourke (0-1), Ian Maguire, Kevin O’Driscoll, Ruairí Deane (sub), Seán Powter (sub) and Seán White (sub) saw action in the 2016 defeat.
Although they lost by only two points in the end, Cork were comprehensively outplayed by Tipperary in the second half that day. The Tipp goalscorers were Michael Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney and Brian Fox, with Kevin O’Halloran kicking seven points. Midfielder, Peter Acheson was the star of the show.
The Tipp win was all the more meritorious as they had to line out without the services of seven injured starters on the day. Of the Tipp team playing that day, no less than eleven saw action in their semi-final win over Limerick this season. They include Jimmy Feehan, Robbie Kiely and Bill Maher (the three outstanding defenders in the 2016 semi-final), Conor Sweeney, E Comerford, A Campbell, C O’Shaughnessy, Michael Quinlivan, Brian Fox, Kevin O’Halloran and Colman Kennedy.
That win in 2016 came as a total shock but, in hindsight, it had been some years in the making with Tipp winning the 2011 All-Ireland minor title and contesting the 2015 U21 final. Attention to underage football in the past 20 years has definitely improved the standard in Tipp and they have more than matched Cork in those grades in recent years.
That is why I pose the question about Cork fearing these Tipperary footballers. If Cork do enter this game with any fear of being beaten, then they will probably end up being beaten.
Real belief is in short supply as regards the red jersey of Cork during the past decade in both codes and all the psychiatrists in the world won’t solve that problem. Only by winning games will real belief be restored and the footballers have been on a winning streak since the beginning of the league. Tipp will, no doubt, truly test Cork’s belief on Sunday and it remains to be seen how the Cork players will respond.
A win will give them a semi-final berth against Mayo and that would be huge progress for this Cork football team.