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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Red letter day for the Rebels

But Cork's big names unlikely to match Tipp's talent

MUNSTER SHC

TIPPERARY v CORK

Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Tomorrow, 4.0, Live RTé 2

AMONG the pages of the Cork hurling back catalogue of regrets, gripes and resentments, it's hard to know where, specifically, to place Tipperary. True, they came to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and bridged an 86-year gap to win on Cork soil back in 2008 but then, given their rising trajectory on the small ball graph and the Rebels' then downward arc, it was bound to happen sometime.

Due to the rumble which followed that season between the players, Frank Murphy and Gerald McCarthy, and the latter's belated exit from the manager's post, there was almost something noble about Cork going down by 'just' three points last year in Thurles.

That may not be the way the players saw it, but what was so obvious about Cork's performance that day was that their immense experience and unquestionable character almost -- but not quite -- covered up for their shortfalls in preparation.

Not that any of them would use it as such, but there is no such excuse for the Cork players this year and tomorrow those who have soldiered in the trenches over these past three years will feel that this is the first time in that period that they will have had a fair crack at Liam Sheedy's men.

But there's no doubt that Cork, in hurling terms, are box office this year: Donal Óg made sure of that with his book; Eoin Cadogan guaranteed it by electing to disregard all conventional wisdom and give both football and hurling a crack; John Gardiner ensured it with his regal spring form.

Any way you look at it, Cork are the most interesting, least transparent or readable of the All-Ireland contenders.

Tomorrow will tell plenty, though. What is remarkable about Denis Walsh's team selection is that there are still so many familiar names.

It was felt and accepted by Walsh that the brief for this year was to devise a more varied, less predictable gameplan for Cork and that this would manifest itself in widespread personnel changes. Not so.

Back into the team come Jerry O'Connor and Niall McCarthy after the sort of springs which had suggested that both might be lurking around the fringes at best.



SURPRISES

Tipp, on the other hand, have sprung a couple of surprises. So settled and effective were they last summer that general opinion reckoned a hefty dose of more-of-the-same and a sprinkling of luck would force them over the line in the race for the Liam MacCarthy.

Sheedy has come in with a couple of 'bolters' in his selection. Brian O'Meara's meteoric rise from outside the panel just a month ago to championship starter is impressive, as is that of former minor All-Ireland winner Michael Cahill, who lines out at wing-back.

It's a Tipp selection still bursting with quality, though. Eoin Kelly has the benefit of his best league in recent memory behind him; Lar Corbett and Seamus Callinan are men whose form tends to accelerate in the championship.

Then there's Pádraic Maher and Noel McGrath. Just into their second seasons as senior hurlers and already being spoken about in the same bracket as the best stickmen in the country.

It's as impressive an array of talent as contained in any panel in the country. Yet, for all their quality, Tipp could hardly argue that their need for a win tomorrow, or even a Munster title, is greater than Cork's.

Walsh's men will strain every muscle and use every brain cell to devise a means to beat Tipperary and, if the Premier men are a fraction below optimum, they could get caught.

It's the first round of the Munster championship, though, so they won't be.

CORK: D Óg Cusack; S O'Neill, E Cadogan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Óg Ó hAilpín; T Kenny, C Naughton; B O'Connor, J O'Connor, N McCarthy; K Murphy, A Ó hAilpín, P Horgan.

TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Maher, P Curran; D Fanning, C O'Mahony, M Cahill; B Maher, S McGrath; N McGrath, S Callanan, J O'Brien; E Kelly, B O'Meara, L Corbett.

ODDS: Tipperary 6/4, Draw 9/1, Cork 4/6

VERDICT: Tipperary

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