Thursday 29 June 2017

Rebels seek more causes after avenging Cats' mauling

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It's only when you haven't had something for some time that you appreciate its true value.

So it is with the Cork hurlers, who have essentially turned their noses up at the National League for most of the last decade and, in the case of 2008 and 2009, had their campaigns disrupted by their struggle with the county board.

Not since 2002 have they reached a league final -- ironically a day when their relationship with Kilkenny took a turn for the worse over the GPA-endorsed protest action -- and you have to go back four years earlier for their last league title outright.

Sunday's defeat of the Cats has gone a long way to retaining the Rebels' strong league push this year. Three games, three wins and an element of atonement for Nowlan Park 11 months ago represents an encouraging month for Cork hurling.

John Gardiner, their most inspiring figure at the weekend, admitted that there was a sense of catharsis about how they went about their business.

Gardiner was in his civilian clothes for the ritual slaughter at Nowlan Park but the force of his play throughout Sunday's feisty encounter was a reflection of how victory for Cork had far more significance than defeat had for Kilkenny. It was a game they simply had to win for themselves, not a mission statement for the coming months.

"I suppose (last year) was brought up a small bit alright. It wasn't a true reflection of Cork, we knew that, we just wanted to show that," Gardiner admitted. "It was important, but it's still only the league, we're just trying to put in a competitive performance.

"Everyone will be roaring and shouting about the performance but we're not going to take much out of it. Any day you beat Kilkenny is a good day but we have another league match next week (away to Waterford), so we know we're going to have to improve.

"We're not getting carried away -- it's a league match, it's March, both teams are in heavy training. They were missing a few, we were missing a few."

Losing with an extra man for the entire second half wouldn't have been a disaster, in Gardiner's estimation.

"I wouldn't think it would have been disastrous had we lost. It wasn't our fault whether they had 14 or 15, they're after winning the All-Ireland title for the last four years in a row, so 14 or 15, we were going to be up against it. It would have been a huge disappointment if we'd lost it but thankfully we won."

Over and over Gardiner repeated that mantra, the league, two points, feet on the ground and so on. But a look of satisfaction creased the face of each and every Cork hurler as they emerged from their warm-down that no words could disguise.

Where it leaves them in the greater scheme of things isn't much clearer. There were many positive aspects -- the support offered to Gardiner by Shane O'Neill, who is now firmly established as one of the top corner-backs in the game, and Eoin Cadogan's recovery at full-back after being taken for a few early balls by Richie Power.

The league now presents itself as a legitimate target for Cork, not something they would have countenanced much when they were consistently reaching All-Ireland finals.

"We've only realised how important it is when we didn't have the couple of league games last year and the year before. The league is important to us, to get games under our belt. We have a few new players coming in, the league will help those fellas to come on to the panel to maybe stake a claim for a championship place.

"It is important but it's not the be all and end all -- if we don't win it we won't be going home crying or anything like that."

Meanwhile, Michael Grace is facing a four-week ban following his red card and Cork corner-back Shane Murphy is facing an anxious wait as the CCCC review the incident before half time that led to Grace's dismissal.

Murphy was one of those involved in the altercation and referee Dickie Murphy could be asked to review incidents involving the Erin's Own defender.

Irish Independent

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