Munster U 21 Football Final

Jackie Cahill at Semple Stadium, Thurles

FOR just the second time in history, Tipperary were crowned EirGrid Munster U21 football champions last night.
There were joyous scenes in Thurles as the Premier County stunned Cork by just a single point.
The Rebels were chasing a fifth successive provincial U21 crown but Tipp, led brilliantly by captain Colin O’Riordan, set up an All-Ireland semi-final clash with champions Dublin on Saturday week.
Tipp were on their way to a first Munster title in this grade since 2010 when man of the match Ian Fahey shot through the legs of Michael Martin midway through the second half.
And while the attendance wasn’t huge, registered officially at 2,137 spectators, Tipp’s vocal supporters roared their side home in the final quarter.
Fahey wasn’t Tipp’s only star on the night as O’Riordan, deemed fit enough to play following his recent concussion, filled the number 24 shirt to produce another magnificent display.
Tipp were five points clear approaching the finish but sub Cian Dorgan’s late goal and a Colin O’Driscoll free had Cork back to within a point.
Tipp fans were fearing another Cork smash and grab raid similar to that which robbed provincial glory for the Leesiders at the same venue in 2009.
But after Dorgan pulled a late effort wide of the posts, referee Sean Joy’s final whistle sparked scenes of unbridled joy for Tipperary.
Manager Tommy Toomey gasped: “I just can’t express it – huge heart in the team.
“Everybody expected us to lose the game but we never panicked, kept playing, kept taking scores.
“It’s just unreal. You always think the team could do it but it’s not until you’re near the line that you think, Jesus, it’s there.
“Great credit is due to them all. Colin O’Riordan ran himself into the ground tonight – he was awesome.”
Kevin O’Halloran, drafted in from left field to start for the very first time, was superb too, kicking five or his six points from frees.
And Tipp showed true grit to dig this one out – having been stunned by Peter Kelleher goals either side of half-time.
Tipp were a point clear at the break, 0-8 to 1-4, but they were caught by a sucker punch goal in first half stoppage time.
What looked like being a comfortable half-time advantage was whittled down to the bare minimum when Sean O’Donoghue pointed for Cork in the final minute of the half, before Kelleher’s first goal provided oxygen to the Rebel challenge.
Cathal Vaughan’s lengthy delivery from the right touchline hung in the air and with goalkeeper Evan Comerford struggling to judge the flight of the ball, Kelleher got the final touch.
And Kelleher netted again 19 seconds after the restart to hand Cork a two-point lead.
But two O’Halloran frees had Tipp level again before Vaughan nudged Cork back in front.
O’Halloran, nerveless from placed balls, restored parity once more before Fahey’s priceless 45th minute goal.
Josh Keane rattled the Cork woodwork as Tipp went for the jugular, with O’Riordan slotting over the loose ball.
And O’Riordan, an All star nominee last year, was at it again soon after to put Tipp five clear and on the road to a famous win.
In truth, Tipp had deserved more than a one-point interval lead lead as they were 0-8 to 0-3 clear before Cork scored 1-1 at the end of the half.
Right from the start, Tipp showed the greater industry as scores from Jason Lonergan, Kevin O’Halloran (free) and Paul Maher opened up a three-point advantage for the hosts.
Darragh Murphy notched Cork’s opening point in the 12th minute but Tipp hit four in a row to lead by six points, 0-7 to 0-1, with 19 minutes on the watch.
Cathal Vaughan’s free was Cork’s first score for eight minutes before the corner forward added a point from play.
Cork were now enjoying their best spell of the half as Tipp were barren on the scoreboard for ten minutes before O’Halloran bagged a fine long-range score.

Scorers for Tipperary: K O’Halloran 0-6 (5f), I Fahey 1-0, J Lonergan, J Keane (1f), P Maher & C O’Riordan 0-2 each, S O’Brien 0-1.
Scorers for Cork: P Kelleher 2-0, C Dorgan 1-1, C Vaughan 0-4 (2f), B O’Driscoll (f), S O’Donoghue & D Murphy 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: E Comerford; C O’Shaughnessy, J Feehan, K Fahey; R Mulcahy, L Boland, B Maher; S O’Brien, C O’Riordan; J Lonergan, I Fahey, L Casey; K O’Halloran, J Keane, P Maher.
Subs: TJ Ryan for Keane (57), W Connors for Boland (59).
CORK: M Martin; J Davis, T O’Rourke, S Cronin; B O’Driscoll, S White, C Kiely; A O’Donovan, S O’Leary; S O’Donoghue, C McIntyre, D Murphy; C Vaughan, P Kelleher, C Horgan.
Subs: K Davis for Horgan (h.t.), C Dorgan for McIntyre (37), D Quinn for O’Donovan (48), M Desmond for O’Donoghue (54), M McSweeney for Kiely (57), C Hyde for White (59).
Referee: S Joy (Kerry)