Gardiner lashes out at 'laughable' O hAilpin criticism
CORK defender John Gardiner has launched a stirring defence of Sean Og O hAilpin and branded recent criticism of his Na Piarsaigh clubmate as 'laughable'.
O hAilpin, one of the mainstays of the Rebels side for the last decade, was substituted during this year's league final defeat to Galway after a poor display but bounced back with solid outings against Tipperary and Limerick to help Cork earn a meeting with Waterford and their first Munster final spot since 2006.
"People criticise Sean Og and it's laughable really because of the career that that man has had," said Gardiner.
"He's probably been the most consistent player of all time, I'd say. He'll keep bouncing back. He's one of the fellas that we depend on and he's going to be there again in a Munster final."
Cork toppled Tipperary in the opening round of the Munster championship before last Sunday's facile win over Limerick in the semi-final, and Gardiner agreed that the win over Tipp was a significant result for the Leesiders in the wake of their recent winters of discontent.
"It was a big game for us. Tipperary had got to the All-Ireland final and probably could have won it. It was a big test for us coming back and it was the first year in a while that we had trained together from the start.
"From our point of view, we knew that if we won that game it would open up the summer for us and we had a good chance of getting to where we are now. After the Tipp game last year we felt that we didn't do ourselves justice."
The rivalry between Cork and Waterford has provided some memorable games since the qualifier system was introduced in hurling in 2002 but there have been significant changes to both sides.
The giant Aisake O hAilpin, rather than the diminutive Joe Deane, will be expected to lead the Rebels attack for the Semple Stadium showdown on July 11 while, on the Waterford side, talisman Ken McGrath may be confined to the bench -- despite declaring himself fit to start.
"For the Cork game I wouldn't be far off it," said McGrath. "I'd be confident enough. If I'm asked, I'll go out and see how I go. If I don't last 70 minutes, I don't last 70 minutes but I suppose I have three months under my belt now. I feel confident enough I could last a fair amount of the game."
McGrath has struggled with knee injuries of late and revealed that there "wasn't much cartilage left" in either knee as a result of 15 years on the inter-county scene. The Mount Sion man may also require a knee replacement later in life.
However, he managed a point late in his side's win over Clare to prove that the Deise's senior stars still have something to offer manager Davy Fitzgerald.
"We believe it every year that there is an All-Ireland in us, to be honest. I suppose we (the senior players) wouldn't be there if we didn't think we had something to offer the team.
"The main thing is we still enjoy it. We all love going training, meeting the lads, having the craic and making a go of it.
"Tony (Browne) at 37 is a phenomenon at this stage to keep going. He's still playing good hurling and isn't just there for sentimental reasons, he's doing a job for us.
"Dan (Shanahan) is flying, he twisted his ankle a small bit in training just before the Clare game so you might see a different Dan for the Munster final."