Tipp Edges Cork In Munster Hurling Semi-Final
Tipperary's Noel McGrath celebrates scoring a goal (INPHO)
Munster GAA Hurling Championship Semi-Final: Cork 0-24 Tipperary 1-22
In the end Tipperary just about hung on, their greater experience and greater strength in depth proving enough to hold off a brave Cork comeback in a thrilling Munster semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday.
Cork had the better for the first half and led by 0-14 to 0-12 at the break, but the reigning champions struck for the decisive goal on 45 minutes, the returning Lar Corbett playing in his team-mate Noel McGrath, who finished a superb move with a neat finish.
McGrath added a point seconds after the game restarted and Tipperary looked to be in the driving seat until John O'Brien was shown a second yellow card just two minutes after the goal.
Tipperary played the remaining 24 minutes with 14 men, but they always looked in control until the final 10 minutes, when Cork came back to hit the final three scores of the game to set up a thrilling finale.
However, a late wide from Cian McCarthy proved costly as the Rebels' man marksman, Pa Horgan, had to drop over his ninth point of the game 90 seconds into added time and hope that referee Brian Gavin would allow enough time for the game to restart and for the home side to, perhaps, snatch a final, equalizing score of the game.
Alas, it was not to be for Jimmy Barry-Murphy's young side, who will definitely feel that they missed a great chance to cause a big upset and knock the reigning champions out of the competition. They will certainly look back on the game with regrets, and especially a disallowed goal at the end of the first half, when Jamie Coughlan was penalized after touching a dropping ball past Brendan Cummins.
But Tipperary showed plenty of character to win a game that might well have slipped away from them. Manager Declan Ryan had the luxury of bringing 2010 Hurler of the Year Corbett off the bench just before half-time, while six-time GAA All Star Eoin Kelly was also brought in to lend some vital experience in those edgy final minutes.
Barry-Murphy had given youth its chance with a bold team selection and it looked to have paid off in the first half, but the lack of experienced players available to him was illustrated when Daniel Kearney, Luke O'Farrell and Cian McCarthy were the trio he chose to bring off the bench in the second half.
Tipperary go into a Munster final against Waterford on July 15 for second year in a row with a second impressive win behind them, while Cork go into the Qualifiers knowing they gave Tipperary the fright of their lives.
Any doubts over the intensity and competitiveness the game would be played at were erased before a ball had been thrown in, with Pádraic Maher and Cathal Naughton engaged in a bout of rutting before the ball was thrown in.
When the game did start, Noel McGrath put the reigning champions ahead inside a minute, but it was Cork who made the better start, with scores from Horgan, Darren Sweetnam and Conor Lehane giving the home side a 0-3 to 0-1 lead.
The opening quarter was fast and furious, with both sides trading scores at a remarkable rate. Gearóid Ryan and McGrath had the gap back down to one by the 11th minute, but the Rebels hit a rich seam of form to lace three points together, the constant movement of their young and very mobile forwards causing the Tipperary defence serious problems.
Horgan was very accurate from frees, while Jamie Coughlan pitched in with two points from play in the first half. Horgan's first from play was a real beauty, his shot from under the covered stand giving the Rebels a 0-12 to 0-8 lead on 21 minutes following a breathless start to the game.
Eventually, the game settled down and as Tipp finally began to gain a toehold in the middle of the field Pa Bourke scored from three successive placed balls to cut the gap to 0-12 to 0-11.
Horgan's second point from play came seconds after Tipperary manager Declan Ryan brought Corbett in for his first taste of competitive action this year, the 2010 Hurler of the Year replacing Gearóid Ryan on 34 minutes.
Cork were 0-14 to 0-12 ahead in stoppage time, but the gap might have been less had Pa Bourke's 21-metre free not been saved by a thicket of Cork defenders on the stroke of half-time.
Tipp trailed by 0-16 to 0-15 when they grabbed the only goal of the game. Patrick Maher won possession with a towering leap, and when he fed Corbett a roar of anticipation went up in the Tipperary end. Corbett, though, flicked a neat pass into McGrath, whose finish past Anthony Nash was precise.
McGrath added another point almost immediately and suddenly all the momentum was with the Premier men. That was until John O'Brien was shown a second yellow card and the champions were forced to answer some searching questions in the final quarter.
Cork hit three of the next four points and were level by the 55th minute. But Tipp never allowed Cork to edge in front with the superb Pa Bourke hitting two more frees and McGrath adding two more points to bring his tally to 1-4.
When Corbett was fouled with six minutes left, Pa Bourke slotted over his 12th point of the game and it looked like Tipperary were home and dry.
Points from Kearney and two from Horgan reduced the gap to one in added time, but Tipperary just about held on to win a gripping contest.