It’s a rivalry that could define the hurling year. While it’s still only April Tipperary and Cork will meet for the third time in 2012 this weekend in the second of the Allianz National Hurling League Semi-Finals at Semple Stadium.
The game throws in at 4pm and will follow the other semi between Kilkenny and Clare at 2pm in what is an attractive double header at Semple Stadium. Michael Wadding of Waterford will be in charge of the Tipp/Cork tie while Galway’s Alan Kelly will referee the meeting of Kilkenny and Clare.
If necessary extra-time will be played in both matches, which will be shown live on TG4. The final is scheduled for Sunday, May 6th.
If all goes according to plan in Tipperary the sides are destined to meet for a fourth time in the Munster Championship semi-final on June 24, that’s if Tipp beat Limerick in the quarter-final on May 27.
Tipp are undefeated in the opening two matches. They beat The Rebels by 0-26 to 1-19 in the Waterford Crystal Cup semi-final in Templemore in February, en route to lifting the trophy, and then drew an exciting League encounter in Thurles three weeks ago, when the scores finished 1-23 apiece.
The closeness of the scoring in both games means there should be little to choose between them once again on Sunday, and Tipperary manager Declan Ryan is expecting another close and tough battle.
On a few occasions it appeared as if Tipp had done enough to shade their last meeting. They were 2 points down at half time before taking a four-point lead midway through the second half. It looked as if they would just edge it when Shane Bourke pointed in the 70th minute but there was still time for Pat Horgan to equalise and level a game that provided great entertainment for a crowd of more than 10,000.
Tipp’s preparations for Sunday have been disrupted by the news that key defenders Paul Curran and Donagh Maher, who comprise two-thirds of the full back line, look certain to miss the game through injuries picked up while playing for their clubs.
Mullinahone’s Curran has been leading by example since his appointment as captain while Burgess corner-back Maher has cemented his place in the starting fifteen with a string of impressive displays.
Another injury victim, Seamus Callanan, has returned to action with Drom/Inch and is just a couple of weeks away from a re-appearance with his county following his ankle injury.
‘Bonnar’ Maher is still sidelined and is due to undergo a scan this weekend on the leg injury that he picked up near the end of Tipp’s first meeting of the year with Cork, in the Waterford Crystal Cup tie.
However Noel McGrath has suffered no ill effects from the shoulder injury that forced him to leave the pitch late in the day when the sides met three weeks ago,
“This is our third meeting of the year and we’ve two and-a-half hours played already. It would be preferable if you were meeting another team at this stage but that’s the way it is and you have to deal with the hand you’re dealt with”, Declan Ryan stated this week.
While another meeting with a team they could yet face in the championship isn’t his first choice, he says it’s better than training sessions or even challenges.
“The game the last day was close to championship pace and a good education for the players. We also learned a lot about our team. It’s only five weeks away from the championship and every game you get at this stage is valuable”.
His team’s inability to close out the game when they were on top against Cork a few weeks ago is something they have to learn from, according to their manager. “We had a similar situation against Dublin”, he says, as he prepares his side for yet another meeting with a team that he believes has improved this year.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the Cork camp. Jimmy Barry Murphy has gelled them well and he’s getting the most out of the players”.