Sunday 18 March 2018

Sublime Gardiner inspires Rebels to sink Cats

Kilkenny's Canice Hickey in action Patrick Horgan of Cork during their Allianz NHL match in Pairc Ui Chaoimh BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Kilkenny's Canice Hickey in action Patrick Horgan of Cork during their Allianz NHL match in Pairc Ui Chaoimh BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Denis Walsh emerged from the Cork dressing-room after last year's humiliating 27-point defeat to Kilkenny -- his first game in charge -- the look on his face told everything.

Visibly dazed by what had happened some 45 minutes earlier Walsh struggled for words to sum up just about the worst day a Cork hurling team had experienced in any lifetime.

One by one the players had filed out in front of him, heads bowed by the absolute lack of mercy shown by the home firing squad.

Kilkenny had long since left the premises, their message ruthlessly delivered after another winter of discontent on Leeside. It had been business with a personal touch for them.

It's against that backdrop then, that the importance of Cork's two-point victory can be placed in proper perspective.

It may have little or no impact on the overall contour of the hurling season, but for now it restores battered pride.

Kilkenny don't come to places like Pairc Ui Chaoimh to lose and no other county can absorb such losses in key personnel like them.

So, it was only natural that Walsh should skip out to the cameras for interviews with a smile on his face and then face further inquisition with a cheery sense of fulfillment.

Any attempt to play it down won't have been heeded by the Rebel support in the 10,102 crowd, who savoured something so rare as the lowering of black and amber colours. It was their first such success over Kilkenny in almost six years.

Was revenge for Nowlan Park foremost on their mind? "Well, it wasn't for me really," said Walsh. "Look at the facts, there was only seven of today's 15 that started last year. From a Cork hurling point of view I'm sure their pride . . . these guys have been together a long time and the fellas we have brought in have blended in very well.

"I left it to themselves from that point of view. I think we got our answer there today. They wanted to win the game in the last quarter of an hour. It was there to be won and we could have easily left it behind us too. But they gave the answer."

For Kilkenny, it hardly represents a crisis, but who can remember the last time they lost back-to-back games in any competition?

Predictably the whiff of gunpowder perfumed the air with every challenge. Cork were determined to lay down a marker -- something Kilkenny do with the natural force of their hurling.

It led to feisty exchanges, splintered hurls everywhere and a boiling over of tempers in added time at the end of the first half when Micheal Grace -- who had just plundered two points -- was red carded by referee, Dickie Murphy.

There were enough bodies crashing into each other in the vicinity to suggest that one or two might have followed, but Murphy and one linesman were well placed and they delivered their judgment swiftly.

From the restart, Niall McCarthy picked up a yellow for Cork and only the arrival of half-time brought order to the burgeoning chaos.

Neither manager had a clear view, with Walsh claiming 'Arsene Wenger' eyesight with a glint in his eye.

With an extra body, the game was always going to be Cork's to lose and they made sharp work of doing just that with an attack that failed to function in any meaningful way; only Paudie O'Sullivan's arrival for the final 15 minutes brought any sort of cohesion and his two points secured a third successive Division 1 win.

If O'Sullivan's points were the security, it was the force of John Gardiner's overall play that provided the inspiration. From early on, the conviction in Gardiner's body language was obvious and he was a tower of strength across the Cork half-back line.

Behind him Donal Og Cusack was equally imperious; saving an early penalty from Richie Power and then stooping low to block John Mulhall on 21 minutes. But their early momentum was lost as poor interaction from their forwards cost them, undoing the good work by Gardiner, Shane O'Neill, Brian Murphy and Eoin Cadogan -- who recovered from a shaky start on Richie Power -- at the back.

The sides went in level -- 0-8 each -- at the break, this time with the Cork crowd rising to their feet in unison just as the Kilkenny hordes had done some 12 months earlier.

Mulhall was arguably Kilkenny's success story. He went through more helmets than Victoria Beckham goes through footwear in an average day, but the end result was plenty of firebrand play and 1-3 to his name, with his 49th-minute goal squeezing beneath Cusack for a 1-10 to 0-11 lead.

The game had caught fire again by then and Cork had to roll up their sleeves and give chase. Gardiner continued to be Cork's bulwark, more often that not finding himself as the extra man in Grace's absence.

"The spare man probably helped us in that regard. I think John (Gardiner) in particular would have been able to read the play and picked up a few scores, picked up few balls coming out when they were under a bit of pressure," said Walsh.

The wonder was that it was such a good game, given the condition of the Pairc Ui Chaoimh surface. It was heavily sanded and scarified and that's understandable in the treatment process of any pitch.


But if the GAA had a quality control department, they would have pushed this game elsewhere. It wasn't what supporters or players deserved for such a fixture.

The arrival of Jerry O'Connor, and later O'Sullivan, sparked Cork and they finally got ahead again through a Gardiner pointed free on 65 minutes, his seventh of the afternoon, before Niall McCarthy and O'Sullivan applied the coup de grace.

Cody wasn't too nonplussed by the defeat. With six of their All-Ireland- winning side missing, in addition to 'Cha' Fitzpatrick and TJ Reid, he has plenty to fall back on.

"We wanted to win the game. We needed to win the game to stay in the league realistically," he said. "There were a lot of good things from our point of view. It was a very genuine performance. We were disappointed to lose, as ever, but we were reasonably happy with the performance."

The day belonged to Cork though, just. After last year, it was simply a case of having to take ownership of it.

Scorers`-- Cork: J Gardiner 0-7 (0-3f, 0-2 '65'), P Horgan 0-4 (0-2f), P O'Sullivan, N McCarthy 0-2 each, T Kenny, C Naughton, J O'Connor 0-1 each. Kilkenny: R Power 0-7 (0-4f), J Mulhall 1-3, M Grace 0-2, E Larkin 0-1.

Cork -- D Og Cusack; S O'Neill, E Cadogan, S Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, B Murphy; T Kenny, C Naughton; B O'Connor, M O'Sullivan, N McCarthy; K Murphy, A O hAilpin, P Horgan. Subs: J O'Connor for O'Sullivan (48), P O'Sullivan for Horgan (57), M Cussen for B O'Connor (60).

Kilkenny -- P J Ryan; C Hickey, B Hogan, J Dalton; T Walsh, J Tyrrell, J J Delaney; J Tennyson, P J Delaney; J Mulhall, W O'Dwyer, E Larkin; M Grace, R Power, A Fogarty. Subs: E Brennan for O'Dwyer (43), J Ryall for P J Delaney (55), S Cummins for J J Delaney (67).

Ref -- D`Murphy (Wexford).

Irish Independent

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