CORK hurlers have put last year’s controversial season firmly behind them by reaching the Allianz National Hurling League final. Sunday’s 1-16 to 1-15 Pairc Ui Chaoimh success over one of their biggest rivals Tipperary showed that they are back very close to their best.
Whether they can emerge to genuine contenders for the All-Ireland title will only be determined in the months ahead, but so far they have done everything that has been asked of them. The league decider against Galway, set for May 2, should be very interesting.
Remarkably, both Cork and Galway have reached the league final prior to facing one another in their final league outing at Pearse Stadium next Sunday. So, it’s going to be intriguing to see how the two counties approach that game.
Both, sensibly, are only too aware that the All-Ireland is very different from the league. As nice as it was for them to beat Tipperary on Sunday, Cork know that it will count for little when the two teams clash again in the Munster Championship on May 30.
“This was a good win but it won’t have any real bearing on the championship.” insisted manager Denis Walsh. Still, Walsh must be delighted with the way things have gone during a league campaign which has seen them win five and draw one of the their six games.
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There’s also the point that they know how to win tight encounters. This was a typical example with Cork going in at half-time four points clear and looking the better side.
But that was to quickly change when Tipp scored 1-5 without reply. The main reason for the turnaround was the form of Paul Kelly who contributed 1-2 to leave Tipperary four points clear.
So, would Cork have the character and skill to hit back? The anaswer to both questions was an emphatic yes, as Cork produced a superbly taken goal from Pa Hogan in the 47th minute.
The same player quickly added a point to bring Cork level. Tipp twice regained the lead, but Cork bounced back on each occasion and then finished the better to secure a deserved success.
Galway also made certain of their place in the final by coming through a surprisingly tough encounter against Dublin at Pearse Stadium. As so often happens with the Dubs, they seem to reserve their best performances for their games against the top teams.
At the finish, Galway only got home by 0-17 to 0-15, but this was not one of their better performances. It took a late flourish, with Galway outscoring Dublin by 0-5 to 0-2 in the closing minutes, to secure the victory.
Manager John McIntyre admitted that it had been “a tough day in the office” but he knows that his team are capable of far better. For the Dubs, there’s now the prospect of a relegation clash with Limerick at Parnell Park next weekend.
If they play as well as they did against Galway, Dublin would be entitled to fancy their chances, but there is the worry that they have tended to disappoint when they are expected to win. What’s more, Limerick did reasonably well to hold Kilkenny to 2-17 to 0-16 to Kilkenny at the Gaelic Grounds.
Realistically, Kilkenny were always in command, but this was a better performance, particularly in defence, from Limerick. Kilkenny manager Brian Cody commented: “We had a cushion at half-time (2-12 to 0-7) but we never pulled clear. So, fair play to Limerick.”
The remaining Division One game saw third placed Waterford edge out Offaly 1-19 to 1-16 in an exciting encounter at Walsh Park. That said, Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald wasn’t happy with the display, and there was some tension — Eoin Kelly flung his hurley to the ground when substituted.
Wexford just need to beat Antrim next weekend to join Clare in the Division Two final after defeating Laois 1-18 to 1-14 at O’Moore Park. The surprise packets of the competition, Carlow will be hoping for a slip up following their 3-14 to 2-5 victory over Kildare.
Tipp win U-21
COULD it be that there will soon be a threat to the football dominance of Kerry and Cork in Munster from Tipperary?
That’s not quite as far fetched as it might seem. Last Wednesday at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Tipperary produced a huge upset by defeating Kerry 1-7 to 1-6 to win the Munster Under 21 Football championship.
Nor was it a one-off performance, as Tipp were playing in their third successive final with the three teams that beat them previously Cork (twice) and Kerry going on to capture the All-Ireland title. Last year, it took a last minute goal to give Cork their win.
This was Tippeary’s first ever Munster Under 21 victory after nine appearances in the final. Kerry, by contrast, had claimed 21 titles.
That tally seemed sure to be added to when Kerry scored an early goal but Tipp hit back with a goal themselves. Man-of-the-match Peter Acheson combined with Donal Lynch for Bernard O’Brien to blast the ball into the Kerry net.
There was never much in it but Tipperary deserved their narrow success. They will be joined in the All-Ireland semi-finals by Dublin who beat Westmeath 1-12 to 0-9 at Parnell Park in the Leinster decider and Roscommon, successful by 1-6 to 1-4 against Sligo in the Connacht final.
Dublin and Roscommon will meet in one semi-final, while Tipperary will face either Donegal or Cavan.
Leinster edge Munster
in entertaining clash
WOW. Such was the build up to the Magners League meeting of Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park on Friday night, that one wondered if they game had any chance of living up to the hype.
It did with Leinster securing a battling 16-15 victory. Talk of whether or wrong to open the pubs on Good Friday in Limerick was soon forgotten as Munster and Leinster tore into each other before a capacity 26,000 attendance.
This was great stuff from start to finish, showing that you don’t necessarily need a load of tries for top class entertainment. The evening produced just one, from Leinster full-back Rob Kearney.
The game was played with a huge intensity, with many outstanding defensive displays. Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell may have been missing but there were some magnificent personal duels.
one more so than the clash of the respective out-halves, Ronan O’Gara from Munster and Jonathan Sexton for Leinster. Many Munster supporters would argue that O’Gara, and not Sexton, should be Ireland’s first choice for the number 10 jersey.
Sure enough, O’Gara gave them further ammunition by landing five out of five kicks at goal, while Sexton was once again much more erratic with his place kicking. But it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
When it was needed, Sexton had the composure to land the winning penalty 15 minutes from time. He also has a physicality that O’Gara lacks.
So, the debate continues. Something, however, which is not in question is that Leinster have caught up with Munster and possibly passed them. This was a third successive victory over their great rivals.
But just who is the top dog will only actually be known after the two complete their Heineken (European) Cup campaigns. Both face tough quarter-final games next weekend, Leinster taking on Claremont Auvergne at the RDS and Munster facing Northampton at Thomond Park.
It will be interesting to see if they are the better for Friday night’s Magners League meeting, such was the ferocity of the game. Munster started the better, three penalties from O’Gara giving them a 9-3 advantage.
But Kearney was to get the crucial try just before half-time after good work from the impressive wing Isa Nacewa. Sexton’s conversion from the touchline gave Leinster a 13-12 interval lead.
Such was intensity that Leinster had two players, Leo Cullen and Justin Hines sinbinned, while Munster had one, Donncha O’Callaghan. The second half was every bit as closely fought, but Munster just couldn’t seem to engineer a try scoring an opportunity.
Importantly, Leinster restricted O’Gara to just one penalty chance, but that was cancelled out when Sexton made up for an earlier miss by kicking the winning penalty in the final quarter.
Unsurprisingly, Leinster’s Michael Cheika was the happier of the two coaches, stressing: “This was a big improvement from the Connacht game. And it gives us self-belief going forward.”
While Leinster and Munster stay first and second, there’s also a good deal of interest in the goings on at the other end of the table. Connacht, for example, are moving closer to Ulster in the race for the last of Ireland’s Heineken Cup spots for next season.
They may still be last following their dramatic 22-21 home victory over Edinburgh but, crucially, they have moved to within four points of third from bottom Ulster. The northern province has been in free-fall recently.
Saturday’s 33-24 defeat to the Cardiff Blues was a third succesive defeat. It could well be that the final game of the campaign, when Ulster take on Connacht at Ravenhill in the second week in May, will decide matters.