By Conor Kane
Hot favourites Cork began their TG4 Munster ladies football championship with an expected win in Ardfinnan on Saturday afternoon, but were pushed all the way by senior newcomers Tipperary, who will be difficult opponents for anyone in the All-Ireland series.
Tipperary came into this TG4 Munster semi-final at the top level on the back of an unbeaten intermediate campaign last year and a successful Lidl Division 2 challenge in spring, but some feared they were in for a disheartening reality check against a Cork side with a rich recent history at the grade.
Those fears weren't allayed at the beginning as the favourites had a goal on the scoreboard before the first minute was played, Bríd O'Sullivan handpassing to the net to finish off a flowing move started by herself and involving Shauna Kelly, Libby Coppinger and Orla Finn.
However, Tipp responded in perfect style as Orla O'Dwyer latched onto the resulting kick-out, sent a long ball forward where Mairead Morrissey did well to control the ball and find Aishling, who in turn sent an unstoppable shot to the net.
Cork kept the pressure on for the remainder of the first-half, with O'Sullivan, Orlagh Farmer, and Coppinger all causing problems and taking scores. Hannah Looney converted a penalty awarded when Lauren Fitzpatrick brought down Libby Coppinger when a goal looked certain.
Credit must go to Tipp for staying in touch, with Moloney and Aisling McCarthy always looking dangerous, Morrissey creating space and chances on several occasions, and Jennifer Grant and Caoimhe Condon also looking effective. They defended well, too, often frustrating Cork's silky passing game and forcing wides. By the interval it was 2-6 to 1-5 in the visitors' favour.
After an entertaining end-to-end first half, the pace slackened somewhat after the break but Cork did enough to keep the scoreboard moving in their favour, team captain Ciara O'Sullivan along with sub Eimear Scally and centre-forward Doireann O'Sullivan keeping Tipp at arm's length, while Orla Finn was as reliable as ever with the frees.
It was midway into the second-half when Tipp got their first score of that period as Mairead Morrissey's goal-bound effort from a long ball was bravely tipped over the bar by Cork goalkeeper Lauren Fitzpatrick.
Gillian O'Brien had another goal attempt well deflected out for a '45 and Tipp fought on to the end, Aishling Moloney doing her best to create more green flag chances and excellent scores coming from the industrious Orla O'Dwyer and Roisin Howard, but Cork's foundation work proved enough.
Scorers: Cork - O Finn 0-4 (3f), B O'Sullivan 1-0, H Looney 1-0 (1-0 pen), C O'Sullivan 0-2, D O'Sullivan 0-2, E Scally 0-2, O Farmer 0-1, L Coppinger 0-1.
Tipperary - A Moloney 1-2, A McCarthy 0-4 (3f), M Morrissey 0-2, R Howard 0-1, O O'Dwyer 0-1.
Cork: M O'Brien, C Collins, E Meaney, E Spillane, M O'Callaghan, M Duggan, S Kelly, B O'Sullivan, A Hutchings, C O'Sullivan, D O'Sullivan, O Farmer, E Scally, L Coppinger, O Finn. Subs: E Scally for B O'Sullivan (h-t), A Kelleher for M Duggan (60).
Tipperary: L Fitzpatrick, B Condon, M Curley, E Buckley, E Cronin, S Lambert, J Grant, C Condon, O O'Dwyer, A Moloney, A McCarthy, AR Kennedy, M Morrissey, N Lonergan, R Howard. Subs: L Dillon for E Buckley (13), G O'Brien for C Condon (42), K Davey for N Lonergan (51)
Ref: S Mulvihill (Kerry).