Cork renew Tipperary rivalry with revenge in the air for both camps

Shane Kingston of Cork is tackled by Tipperary players Ronan Maher, left, and Seamus Kennedy during last year's Munster SHC round five match at Semple Stadium.
Shane Kingston of Cork is tackled by Tipperary players Ronan Maher, left, and Seamus Kennedy during last year's Munster SHC round five match at Semple Stadium.

A couple of hours after the 2018 Cork-Tipperary All-Ireland U21 final, Liam Cahill and some of the victorious Tipperary players were in a pub in Limerick city, where the match had just been played.

Cahill had just presided over one of Tipperary’s most satisfying underage victories in their history, especially after Cork had hammered them in the Munster final a few weeks earlier by 13 points. Cahill and his players were understandably in raptures. Loose talk was inevitable with a fusion of drink and delirium.

A handful of Cork supporters were in the pub and when they later relayed some of those comments to the Cork players, it felt like a ton of salt had already been shovelled into an open wound.

“Of all the defeats we have suffered,” one of the Cork players who played that day privately admitted years later, “that was the absolute worst. By a mile.”

Cork were in the horrors after that match. Everyone expected a much improved Tipperary performance from the Munster final collapse, but nobody anticipated anything other than a Cork victory. Tipperary just never followed that expected script.

Most of Cork’s big names didn’t perform, but the nature of such a devastating loss went far deeper than the result. After the late All-Ireland senior semi-final collapse against Limerick four weeks earlier, it was another example of a Cork team being ruthlessly punished for failing to show the absolute killer instinct required.

It was harder again to take considering the huge wealth of experience Cork had on the pitch, especially compared to Tipperary.

Six of their players featured in that senior All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick – Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston, Robbie O’Flynn, Tim O’Mahony and Jack O’Connor. On that Tipp side, Jake Morris was the only one to have played senior championship.

Cork’s modern history has been defined by some devastating results but that defeat ranks as the most debilitating amongst that group. It was also another glaring example of how Cork hurling no longer carried the fireproof confidence and latent swagger of old. A year later, another cohort of young Cork hurlers had to suck up a different level of hurt and pain when Tipp walloped them in the All-Ireland U20 final.

Just two months earlier, both teams had served up a classic Munster final in what was one of the best underage games of the last decade. Tipp won the match with a late Jake Morris goal.

The tight margin confirmed how little there had always been between those groups which had been apparent since the 2015 U-16 Arrabawn semi-final in Holycross when Cork won with a late goal. Yet that equality was shredded in that 2019 U20 final. Because, for the first time, Tipperary looked on a different level to Cork.

It was also a reminder of how so many of those Tipp players had a successful track record in All-Ireland finals compared to Cork. A significant number of those Tipp U21 and U20 teams had also won All-Ireland minor medals in 2016. Six days before that 2019 U20 final, Jake Morris, Jerome Cahill and Paddy Cadell all won All-Ireland senior medals.

As a comparison, Ger Collins, Ger Millerick and Brian Turnbull experienced their third successive All-Ireland final defeat in that 2019 U20 final, having also played in the 2017 minor final loss to Galway. Collins and Millerick didn’t play in the 2021 All-Ireland senior final but both were part of a squad that suffered another crushing All-Ireland final defeat, this time to Limerick.

Cork struggled last summer to rediscover the form that drove them to that 2021 final but their best, and most satisfying display, came in that final round robin match against Tipp. It was all the more pleasing again for so many players from the 2018 U21 team.

The majority of them lost to Tipp in the senior championship in 2019 and 2020 but they were Liam Sheedy’s Tipp teams. Most of those players remain but last year’s contest was largely a face-off between the sides which contested that 2018 U21 final.

The parallels between the numbers are striking. Twenty-four of the players from that 2018 U21 final (12 from Cork and 12 from Tipp) have since played senior championship.

The Cork numbers increase even more when the 2019 U20 team are included; Robert Downey, Tommy O’Connell, Brian Roche, Seán O’Leary-Hayes and Daire Connery have also played senior championship. So has Tipp’s Conor Bowe and Bryan O’Mara.

Cork have framed much of their future around the 2020 and 2021 All-Ireland U20 winning squads. That generation know what it takes to win All-Irelands but Cork can still use the pain of the past as rocket fuel in that manic pursuit of senior glory.

For Cork’s mid-tier group now, the worst of the hardship was endured at the hands of Tipperary in those All-Ireland U-21 and U-20 finals.

They finally beat Tipp in a championship game last year, but the dynamic has completely changed this time around. Tipp were a shambles last year but they’re a completely different animal now.

Cork were impressive that day last year but they, especially the Cork public, were still trying to convince themselves that Cork were on to something after having lost their opening two matches.

Both sides look to be in a far better place now. Cork and Tipp have won their first match. Both camps are highly optimistic. Saturday evening is expected to host the biggest crowd for a Cork-Tipp game in well over a decade. After disappointing contests in their last three meetings – 2019, 2020 and 2022 – this has the makings of a Cork-Tipp clash fully faithful to the storied history of this fixture.

And bubbling beneath the surface is an intriguing sub-plot, especially now that Cahill is the Tipp manager. Cahill always felt he had Cork’s number, but Cork turned that trend on its head last year when they beat the Waterford team he was managing.

For a significant cohort of Cork players now though, beating Cahill and Tipp here would provide a sweet and immensely satisfying form of payback.