They arrived late at Pairc Ui Rinn and their best spell of the game was similarly delayed.
Sunday’s incredible National Hurling League encounter was capped by Tipperary’s remarkable comeback that saw them erase a 12 points deficit in the last 17 minutes - a period when they outscored their opponents by 2-9 to 0-2 - to pip Cork and finish on top of the Division 1A table.
The result of this scorefest means that Tipp face Offaly in Tullamore (3pm) while Cork play Wexford at Pairc Ui Rinn in the quarter-finals next Sunday. Whether it will have implications for the remainder of the year remains to be seen.
This was Tipp’s third win in the last three meetings, including last year’s one-sided All-Ireland semi-final, against a Cork team that manager Jimmy Barry Murphy admitted wanted to win the match on their home turf, even with relatively little at stake. Tipp boss Eamon O’Shea was pleased that his team’s mental resolve hadn’t buckled but added they must have been doing something wrong to find themselves behind by four goals in the second half.
With both sides already safely qualified for the knockout stages the pattern of this free-scoring affair often resembled a challenge game. Eamon O’Shea didn’t make much of the team’s late arrival at the venue, and whether or not it made any difference to his team’s preparation the scoreline looked to be heading towards embarrassing proportions when Cork pounced for two goals in less than a minute to open up that 12-points gap midway through the second half.
The first of those goals arrived when substitute Paudie O’Sullivan seized on the rebound after Seamus Harnedy’s attempt at a point struck the upright. Shortly afterwards Patrick Horgan shot to the net after waltzing through the defence to make it 4-19 to 0-19, and all hope seemed lost for Tipperary.
There was no indication that a comeback was on the cards when Kieran Bergin, who started at wing back but was now featuring in a more advanced role, scored his team’s opening goal with 17 minutes remaining. Cork’s Daniel Kearney responded with a point but the pendulum of superiority gradually swung in Tipperary’s favour. Seamus Callanan struck two points, the first from a free. Then, despite a strong challenge, he somehow managed to slip a handpass to Jason Forde, who illustrated his predatory instincts by scampering clear to shoot past Anthony Nash for the second goal.
That reduced the deficit to 5 points and with 13 minutes remaining the sense of unease among the home supporters in the attendance of 7,895 was palpable.
A point from Seamus Harnedy pushed Cork six clear with 11 minutes left but that was to prove their final score. Although they still had an amount of ground to recover the transformation in Tipperary’s performance was something to behold. Despite having that huge mountain to climb they never panicked, sticking to their game plan and kept passing the ball in an attempt to dismantle Cork’s huge advantage.
The defence, marshalled by Padraic Maher, with good support from Paddy Stapleton and Conor O’Mahony at last began to get to grips with the Cork forwards in that frantic finale.
Half time substitutes Bonner Maher and Michael Breen, as well as James Woodlock (introduced in the 56th minute) breathed new life into the display while two more substitutes, Shane Bourke and Conor Kenny made themselves busy in an attack that profited from the injury-enforced departure of Cork centre back Mark Ellis.
The main men at the attacking end, however, were Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan. Callanan was the orchestrator-in-chief while McGrath was coolness personified, even after shooting a bad wide. Three frees from Callanan brought them closer before McGrath weighed in with two more points, the second from a long-range free.
Conor Kenny equalised and after Darragh Egan had saved Bill Cooper’s point-attempt Noel McGrath, fittingly, had the final say as he fired the winning point, the last act in a gripping drama that left everyone breathless.
With Patrick Horgan, Cormac Murphy, Seamus Harnedy and Shane O’Neill all prominent Cork looked the livelier and sharper side in the first half and it was no surprise when they led by 0-15 to 0-13 at the break. That lead was strengthened seven minutes after the re-start when Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan struck for two goals in the space of sixty seconds.
Tipp, meanwhile, had four glimpses of a green flag before Kieran Bergin scored their opening goal. Brendan Maher, who later retired with a cut to his face, should have scored when he was released by Niall O’Meara, only for Anthony Nash to block his shot; on the stroke of half time Seamus Callanan raced onto Noel McGrath’s pass and produced a delightful flick over Nash’s head but the ball sailed over instead of under the crossbar; then Nash blocked Callanan’s scuffed effort in the 47th minute and in the shemozzle that followed Tipp couldn’t force the ball over the line; and a minute later Callanan sent an inviting pass across the face of the goal that Niall O’Meara batted over the bar.
Those misses looked to be costly when Cork opened up that massive lead. However Tipperary redeemed themselves with a terrific fightback that keeps them on track for a first league title in seven years.
Tipperary - Darragh Egan, Paddy Stapleton, Conor O’Mahony, Conor O’Brien, Kieran Bergin (1-0), Padraic Maher, Ronan Maher (0-1), Shane McGrath, Thomas Stapleton (0-1), Noel McGrath (0-7, 1 free), Brendan Maher, Jason Forde (1-4), John O’Dwyer (0-1 free), Seamus Callanan (0-10, 5 frees) and Niall O’Meara (0-2).
Substitutes - Michael Breen for Shane McGrath, Patrick Maher for Brendan Maher and Shane Bourke (0-1) for John O’Dwyer (all half time), James Woodlock for Thomas Stapleton (56 minutes) and Conor Kenny (0-1) for Niall O’Meara (62 minutes).
Cork - Anthony Nash, Shane O’Neill, Stephen McDonnell, Damien Cahalane, Lorcan McLoughlin, Mark Ellis, Cormac Murphy (0-2), Daniel Kearney (0-2), Aidan Walsh (0-1), Rob O’Shea (0-1), Seamus Harnedy (0-5), Conor Lehane (1-1), Alan Cadogan (0-1), Luke O’Farrell and Patrick Horgan (2-8, 0-6 frees).
Substitutes - Paudie O’Sullivan (1-0) for Alan Cadogan (half time), Conor O’Sullivan for Mark Ellis (51 minutes), Bill Cooper for Luke O’Farrell (53 minutes), Andy Walsh for Rob O’Shea (61 minutes) and Stephen Moylan for Daniel Kearney (65 minutes).
Referee - Barry Kelly