Ó hAilpín laments Gardiner's ridiculous absence
FORMER Cork hurler Seán óg ó hAilpín gives his old team-mates every chance of beating Clare today, but says they would be even greater if his Na Piarsaigh clubmate John Gardiner was on the pitch.
Along with Dónal óg Cusack, 30-year-old Gardiner was one of the high-profile names left out of Jimmy Barry-Murphy's squad this season, a decision ó hAilpín still cannot fathom.
"Whatever about myself and Dónal óg, it's ridiculous with John," he says. "It just doesn't make hurling sense to me how you can leave out a fella like that. Here's me again . . . I'm sure the management team will have another face for the dartboard, and think, 'Who is Seán óg to be telling us how to run our affairs?'
"But realistically, come on? There's guys there being called in from places I've never even heard of. John has been playing club senior hurling for years. There must be other reasons."
ó hAilpín says Cork simply cannot countenance losing to Clare again. If they go down later this afternoon, it will be their fourth defeat to the Banner in 2013, having lost to Davy Fitzgerald's side in the Waterford Crystal and then twice in the league.
"Forget about an All-Ireland – if you have any pride in yourself don't let them beat you four f**king times. I don't think Clare are way ahead of us but I'm hoping that we say, 'We're Cork. There's the red jersey. And this is championship'. I would just say to the lads, 'Get out there and if you have any respect for yourself, Jesus Christ, losing to them three times . . .' We need this win."
Ironically, this intriguing affair pits Cork against a county brimming with All-Ireland under 21 medals. When ó hAilpín first set out, Cork were the upcoming princes of hurling. How the wheel has turned.
"Cork won an All-Ireland in 1990 and the next time they won was in 1999 so there was a nine-year gap. But there's an eight-year gap coming this year," he cautions.
"Can anyone name me the last underage victory of note that a Cork team has had? I couldn't tell you. Unfortunately, the attitude is down to tradition. Cork won All-Irelands without development squads and we'll do it again – that's the attitude that's thrown back at you.
"I don't want to be opening up a can of worms because they must have a dartboard of me in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at this stage, but I think these development squads we set up were designed because of the strikes, rather than for good intentions. It was, 'Okay, we'll do it', just because it was brought up in the strike. If the strikes didn't happen, I don't think they they'd have even done that."
ó hAilpín believes some of Cork's senior players suffered in recent years with the turnover in managers. "You'd love to feel that after putting in 15 years plus you could at least have a relationship with whoever is at the head of it. I see other players. Because they've worked under one manager for a long time, they've built a relationship and there is a loyalty there.
"But what I've found since the Donal O'Grady/John Allen years, there has been a high turnover of Cork managers. And every manager that comes in wants to stamp their own print on it. They don't want to be seen that, because this player is here X amount of years, that he gets allowances. And we don't want to paint that picture for the young fellas. I reckon that myself and other guys have suffered because of that. Each manager coming in has used us. The last thing you want to do is after all the good years, the excitement, the enjoyment, you name it, tears and joy, is move away feeling bitter. But it's easy for guys who finish up like that to feel bitter."
He may be away from the county scene now, but his status in the game means he will always be in demand. At the moment he has linked up with other top names like Henry Shefflin, Damien Hayes, John Mullane and Eoin Kelly to work with championship sponsors Centra on a new community scheme.
The hurling stars will host hurling skills sessions around the country in a programme which is aimed at bringing communities together to celebrate hurling in a family-friendly setting. Sessions will be followed by free barbecues, face painting, music and entertainment. The festival has already visited Ballybofey and Mullingar, and next Saturday it's Athenry's turn, followed each Saturday by Castlebar, Navan, Clare, Cork (Páirc Uí Rinn), Limerick (Gaelic Grounds), Dublin (Ballyboden) and Killarney.
When asked if could ever see himself managing Cork, the multi-decorated former half-back says he sees himself more as a coach than a manager. "I reckon I'd be very good, hands-on, working with players on the ground. Working out plays and doing stuff like that. I don't know whether I'd be the ideal man to steer 30 egos in a dressing room," he admitted.
"Look, you'd love to get involved with the county you played with. Cork would be my first love."
But what are the chances of getting involved?
"I'd say if I was in a line of 100 candidates I probably wouldn't even be considered," he smiles. "That would be my personal feeling. I'd imagine I'd be at the end of list. The reason why? The stand I was involved with (three strikes). Most of the people on the other side of fence are still there. I don't want to necessarily go working with Cork first."