With Liam Sheedy back in charge Tipperary’s sparkle appears to have returned as the county's so called ageing team defied the odds to come away with a very good win over Cork at new Pairc Ui Chaoimh last Sunday.
With thirteen of the team that were on the starting fifteen in the 2016 All-Ireland win in action under Michael Ryan, Tipperary rarely looked in trouble - except for a poor patch approaching half time when a six point lead turned into a one point deficit - as eleven men made the scoresheet with each score better than the other as John Bubbles O’Dwyer and Seamus Callanan hit the heights of old to score 1-11 from play between them.
With just four points from placed balls, this was Tipp’s biggest win over Cork in the Rebel City and the third victory at the venue with the 2008 victory under Sheedy and 2012 win under Declan Ryan to compare with.
Noel McGrath scored a '65' and Jason Forde added three frees to make up the quartet of placed balls with Forde raising a quintet of white flags and he could have added a goal from a penalty but Anthony Nash denied him with a great save.
Eleven players made the scoresheet with Tipp’s front eight on target while the half backline trio of Brendan Maher (two points) plus Padraic Maher and Ronan Maher made a great all round display especially in the second half where Brendan Maher captured the imagination with a performance that must have pushed close for man of the match behind John O’Dwyer who received the accolade after the game.
Remember Brendan Maher’s last championship game in Tipp colours ended in injury as he cried off with a major cruciate injury in Tipp’s final group game last year against Clare.
The Borris-Ileigh man was immense as was John O’Dwyer who landed seven points from play and had a big hand in Tipp’s second goal when he passed a sixty metre bullet to a momentarily unmarked John McGrath who gave Anthony Nash no chance in the Cork goal.
And while this game may not have the attributes of a straight knockout game of old it still carried much to admire in this splendid new theatre as over 30,000 patrons looked on in the bright sunshine with the new look surface looking splendid from the fifth story level where the new press box is situated making a mockery of the negative news about the pitch last Spring.
But back to the action where the Cork team will be very disappointed with their overall performance where Patrick Horgan was the only player to reach his potential as he dragged the Rebels kicking and screaming into the game scoring fourteen points in total including four from play.
The normally brilliant Anthony Nash had a mixed day. Apart from his excellent save on Jason Forde’s penalty his puckout suffered as the Tipp middle eight caused endless worries with a number of interceptions.
Apart from Nash and Horgan there were some bright spots where Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston chipped in with three points from play each while team captain Seamus Harnedy added 1-2 and after he opened the scoring just one minute.
The score made up for the disappointment of losing Bill Cooper who cried off just before the start.
But, as Liam Sheedy kept reminding everybody in his pre-match comments that his men were ready and Seamus Callanan was clear evidence of Sheedy’s promise as the Callanan of old raced in from the right to collect a wonderful Niall O’Meara hand pass to rifle a low shot past Anthony Nash for the game's opening goal in the third minute.
The Tipperary captain was leading by example and with further scores coming from Jason Forde, John O’Dwyer, John McGrath and two in a row from Noel McGrath, Tipp had raced into 1-5 to 0-3 lead after ten minutes.
Two Horgan frees reduced the margin to a single score before Callanan reacted again with two points on the trot to open up a six point advantage after seventeen minutes.
But for all the positives on show, the concession of frees in Tipp’s half of the field which resulted in Pat Horgan striking seven frees in Cork’s first octet of scores and he scored his first point from play to give The Rebels parity at 1-8 to 0-11 after an unanswered run of five and twenty three minutes gone.
Tipp responded nicely which resulted in Niall O’Meara winning a penalty but Nash denied Jason Forde and when Cork returned to the other end another Horgan free gave Cork the lead for the second time in the game. Michael Breen levelled but Horgan hit back with a good score before Tipp hit three unanswered points, the first a free by Forde followed by a long range score by Padraic Maher before Callanan picked up his third point and by half time, Tipp had regained the narrow advantage 1-13 to 0-15.
Within two minutes of the restart further points helped Tipp stretch their lead to three after O’Dwyer and Forde had scored from play.
Horgan hit back with a point from play which required intervention from referee Sean Cleere.
But Tipp responded once more with the ever present Niall O’Meara scoring a point when a goal was in the offering.
In a game of splendid scoring the next two matched the best on offer as Patrick Bonner Maher struck from long range. The supporters had barely relaxed when Patrick Horgan directed a shot over his left shoulder to split the posts at the Blackrock end.
And if that was not enough Brendan Maher hit from half way before Forde scored his second from play following a good build up involving Cathal Barrett and John McGrath on the right wing.
Tipp were now on the crest of a wave and by the 49th minute their lead had stretched to eight thanks to another Forde free with Bonner Maher fouled.
One minute later the game was put beyond doubt when John McGrath struck gold when taking a great pass from an unmarked John O’Dwyer who had raced on to a well intentioned Noel McGrath delivery.
Robbie O’Flynn replied with a point but O’Dwyer struck back with a great point before Cork came forward again forcing Brian Hogan to save before play was called back for a free in which increased Horgan’s tally.
Substitutes Jake Morris and Dan McCormack had entered the field of play as Ronan Maher put Tipp seven in front in the 57th minute. Kingston cut the margin to five in the hour mark but the seven point difference re-occurred after Noel McGrath and Brendan Maher (his second) made it 2-24 to 0-23.
Just when it appeared that victory was safe, Cork responded with a Seamus Harnedy goal in the 66th minute.
However, it was to no avail for Cork as the long puck out by Brian Hogan reached John O’Dwyer who bisected the posts quickly followed by a successful Noel McGrath '65' with Callanan turning on the style once more.
By then Willie Connors, Mark Kehoe and Cian Darcy had vacated the subs bench as the patrons were heading for the turnstiles and those who left missed out on John O’Dwyer’s seventh and his best point to date.
At the other end Brian Hogan dealt well with a distant Mark Coleman free catching the high ball under the crossbar. Hogan had played well behind a very sound full backline of Barrett, James Barry and Sean O’Brien in a fifteen that will take their places next Sunday against Waterford in Round two.