By Ger Canning
Tipperary have beaten Cork in the championship, and Eoin Kelly wasn't even playing!
Played in rainy conditions in front of an attendance of 12,902, these great Munster rivals served up a thriller in Semple Stadium in the final qualifying group match.
The victory for Babs Keating's team by a solitary point means that they will now meet Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, with Cork having to renew their rivalry with neighbours Waterford in another quarter-final.
Sharp-shooter Kelly was missing because of a groin injury and observers viewed the decision not to start him as a precaution on the part of the Tipp management.
After 15 minutes of play quite a few of the home supporters were looking towards the dug-out wondering when the man with the genius touch would be sprung from the sidelines. But the Mullinahone man was never introduced, and the credit for this must go to the 15 starters and the five subs introduced in the second-half.
After a quarter of an hour Cork led by 0-08 to 0-03, and Tipp appeared to be heading for a severe caning.
Cork's half-back line were having their usual productive evening's hurling. John Gardiner, Roran Curran and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín were starting on this same line for the 17th time in the last 19 championship matches.
Everything was going to popular expectations until Eamonn Corcoran (man-of-the-match) lofted a clearance in the general direction of the Cork goal in the 22nd minute.
Micheal Webster, who was playing at full-forward for Waterford, got to the ball just ahead of the towering Diarmuid O'Sullivan. Webster's flick to the in-rushing Lar Corbett was precise, and the Thurles Sarsfield player spotted Willie Ryan out of the corner of his eye. The resultant 'bullet' beat Dónal Óg Cusack and infused new life in a sagging contest.
Fortunes changed almost immediately. Tipperary were now only two points down. Benny Dunne had yet another goal opportunity with five minutes to go to half-time. His surging run was initially foiled by a deft flick by Ó hAilpín and a smart piece of goalkeeping by the Cork custodian.
Tipp's tactics of varying the player on the '40', and switching Corbett and the in-form Benny Dunne to go on Ronan Curran, caused major alarm in the Cork rearguard.
At half-time only a point separated these great rivals, 0-12 to 1-08 in Cork's favour.
Cork introdced Brian Murphy for Cian O'Connor for the start of the second half, but within five minutes there was further confusion and panic in the normally composed Rebel backline.
Benny Dunne, playing a captain's part, swept a diagonal ball across towards Willie Ryan's right-corner of attack. Once again he showed his capacity to skin defenders by moving forward with menace and driving an angled shot into the corner of Cusack's net. The ball, struck with power by the Toomevara youngster, bounced awkwardly and came up at an oblique angle, making it impossible to stop.
Ryan was to finish the game with 2-03 to his credit, but bearing in mind how Tipp have won so many of their games with huge points tallies from Eoin Kelly's frees, it's good to be able to report that Tipp won here shooting only three scored frees in the entire game.
Lar Corbett was another who deserves praise. His three points from play were all skillfully executed and delighted the home crowd. He is, after all, a local Thurles boy!
So where did it all go wrong for Cork? Perhaps they expected to win handily when they saw the composition of the Tipp starting XV, with no starting Eoin Kelly, John Carroll, Diarmuid Fitzgerald, Paul Kelly, etc, and a midfield of Hugh Maloney and Seamus Butler.
Maloney is usually a wing half-back, while Butler plays corner forward. Both were excellent in an outstanding team performance.
Cork led by five points in the first half, and if that was Kilkenny it's impossible not to think that the Cats would have tagged on a few goals and there would have been no comeback for Tipp. Cork appear to lack that killer instinct.
Cork were re-energised in the 61st minute with a dashing Neil Ronan goal, his second in consecutive matches. A high ball into the Tipp square was finished brilliantly to narrow the gap to a couple of points.
But try as they might, Cork could not break down Tipp's resolution, and Babs Keating master-minded a first championship win over Cork for the first time since 1991 (that year's replayed Munster Final).
The quarter-finals are next on the busy agenda, and yes, this championship is really hotting up.