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Great rivalries: Tipp’s success was aligned to Corbett’s tussles with Tyrrell

Lar Corbett v Jackie Tyrrell

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NOW NOW!: Referee Cathal McAllister speaks to Tipperary’s Lar Corbett and Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell after a scuffle during 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

NOW NOW!: Referee Cathal McAllister speaks to Tipperary’s Lar Corbett and Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell after a scuffle during 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

NOW NOW!: Referee Cathal McAllister speaks to Tipperary’s Lar Corbett and Kilkenny’s Jackie Tyrrell after a scuffle during 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

The second half of the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final was already 37 seconds old when Lar Corbett finally emerged from the Tipperary dressing-room to rejoin the play and restore his team to 15 players.

Between changing gear and requiring a trip to the toilet, Corbett had got his timing wrong and by then Kilkenny had scored a point to draw the teams level at 1-10 each, and his absence was picked up on in the press and commentary boxes.

"He probably knew that Jackie Tyrrell would be waiting at the tunnel for him," surmised TV co-commentator Michael Duignan with a little hint of mischief.

Sure enough, Tyrrell was waiting for him and crashed off with a shoulder to resume hostilities that had developed in most bizarre circumstances throughout the first half with Corbett detailed to shadow Tommy Walsh, Tyrrell taking responsibility for Corbett's movements and Walsh, in turn, tracking Pa Bourke.

Spectacles

What developed was one of the most unusual spectacles on a hurling field in a long, long time, four players congregated in a tight group, a sideshow almost, oblivious to the rhythm of the game around them as they jostled and pushed for some order.

It was, of course, a sequel to the previous year's All-Ireland final when Tyrrell assumed the security role around Corbett, scorer of that hat-trick of goals to bury Kilkenny's five-in-a-row dreams 12 months earlier and the most obvious threat.

For almost three years Corbett, free of injuries that had bedevilled him for much of the 2000s, had found the freedom and expression in sync with Eamon O'Shea's coaching to fulfil his potential as one of the most potent forwards in the game. Four goals plundered in the 2011 Munster hurling final against Waterford only served to cement that reputation.

But then Tyrrell came into his space and the path he was on veered off course quite dramatically.

In 2010, Corbett had switched between full-forward and centre-forward with enough frequency to throw his pursuers off the scent. A year later Tyrrell's instruction, as he would recall in his autobiography 'The Warrior's Code', was to "stick to Lar like a leech," conceding it was his intention to drive his opponent "mad".

Whatever had to be done, he did. Corbett liked to wear his socks up so for distraction Tyrrell admitted in the book to pulling them down when the opportunity arose. He stood on his toes, he kicked his heels.

"I was never into verbals but I dialled up the heat that day. Nothing personal, just business," he wrote.

"At one stage when he tried to dart away from me, I caught his helmet. My fingers edged through the bars on his faceguard and I scraped him below the eye with my fingernails.

"I'm not sure if I drew blood but when Lar started complaining to the referee I just shrugged my shoulders."

Corbett's touches that day could be counted on one hand. In any back's language, that's a stunning result. For a player who made such an impact a year earlier, it was quite a stark difference.

The fall-out for Corbett was quite sharp, no shortage of barbs about being found in Tyrrell's pocket coming his way for weeks and months afterwards.

By the time they met again, Corbett had left and come back to the Tipperary squad as his desire for hurling and its endless treadmill left him in the winter months.

This time they cooked up a plan to try to divert Tyrrell's inevitable pursuit of Corbett, seeking to turn the tables with Lar in that self-sacrificing man-marking role.

You could even argue, by virtue of their one-point interval lead, that the confusion which reigned was even working in their favour.

But it brought distaste to those who want their hurling served a particular way and the circus that developed didn't fall kindly for Tipp.

Tyrrell didn't mince his words in recalling those years with his assessment that "all this moving and switching as a means of disguising that they couldn't take us on, that they hadn't the b***s to really go at us. It always felt like they were scared to beat us."

By 2013, when they met in Nowlan Park, Tyrrell's attentions had switched away from Corbett who now had the attention of Paul Murphy and with such liberation came a goal early on that memorable Saturday evening before a hamstring pull headed him back to shore. For the two games in 2014, Noel McGrath and John O'Dwyer were on Tyrrell's radar.

Tipp recovered from those dip years and over the decade have managed to restore a more healthy balance with their rivals.