But the Cork captain insisted that he and his teammates are enjoying the build-up to another championship campaign.
“There’s definitely an element of that out there, even in Cork. They’re only waiting to come out, if we’re beaten on Sunday. We know that too. Are we enjoying it? Yes, that’s what it is all about, we enjoy playing hurling. At the moment we are enjoying the championship week. Tipperary in Thurles, if you don’t enjoy that you can’t enjoy anything. With everything that happened in the year, with all the stuff we had to do, this is the most important part of it. It is the most enjoyable part when you get to lead your county – a great honour for myself, my club and my family.” Cork last night named their starting 15 for Sunday’s match, which includes two championship debutantes in corner-back Conor O’Sullivan from Sarsfields and Na Piarsaigh’s Aisake O hAilpín who will start at full-forward. Gardiner expressed his delight at the inclusion of his clubmate O hAilpín but insisted that Cork cannot be depending on him to lead the way.
“Aisake’s a huge man and is very difficult to handle. But it’s his debut and we’re not expecting huge things out of him. It’d be unfair on him. There’s no way we can depend on a fella making his debut. He’s had huge potential all the way up. His stint in Australia didn’t work out but he’s a great athlete and has the same attitude as all the O hAilpíns, he’s mad for hurling.
“I’d love to see him make an impression now. He had a stint with the footballers but when the hurling opportunity came up it was his first love. He decided to go for the hurling and I think it was a good move for him.”
Cork have named 10 of the side that started in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny for Sunday’s crunch showdown in Semple Stadium. Alongside the two championship debutantes, Eoin Cadogan starts at full-back, Timmy McCarthy comes in at left half-forward while Kieran Murphy of Sarsfields plays at right corner-forward. The players replaced include the retired trio of Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Brian Murphy and Joe Deane, while in attack Patrick Cronin and Cathal Naughton both make way.
Sean Óg O hAilpín has shrugged off recent injury worries to take his place at left half-back alongside the familiar presence of Ronan Curran and Gardiner. Left corner-back O’Sullivan is the only player who featured for Cork in their NHL tie against Tipperary in February who will start on Sunday and has emerged strongly during Sars’ county championship-winning side last year and UCC’s triumphant Fitzgibbon Cup team in March.
Full-forward O hAilpín becomes the third member of his family to make a Cork senior championship outfit. Sunday will mark his first championship game for Cork since the 2003 All-Ireland minor semi-final defeat to Kilkenny, after his spell in Melbourne with AFL club Carlton since then. Gardiner admits it will be strange lining out without long-serving trio of O’Sullivan, Murphy and Deane.
“It definitely will be strange without them. The experience that those boys brought is going to be missed hugely. Sully, Joe and Brian Murphy have been a huge part of our team. But we have to have the confidence in the new lads. Denis has confidence in them by picking them. We’ll have to do the same. Whoever puts on the Cork jersey, you’ll have no doubts about them.
“We have to believe we’re going to give a good performance. The odds are against us. We’re underdogs and rightly so. Tipperary matched Kilkenny in the league final. There’s no doubt we’re down the pecking order. We don’t know where we’re at. What you look forward to is championship Sunday.”
Meanwhile Cork intermediate boss Johnny Keane has named a strong side for their championship opener against Tipperary in the curtain-raiser on Sunday. Senior panellist Anthony Nash lines out in goals, while Pat Fitzgerald, who missed last year’s county senior championship with Erin’s Own, is eligible to line out in defence. Darragh McSweeney captains the side from full-back while All-Ireland junior champions Dripsey have two representatives in wing-back John Carey and centre-forward Mark O’Sullivan. The team includes three members of last year’s Cork U21 side in centre-back Ross Cashman, midfielder Eoin Dillon and left half-forward Stephen Moylan.
CORK (Senior Hurling v Tipperary): D Óg Cusack; S O’Neill, E Cadogan, C O’Sullivan; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Óg O hAilpín; T Kenny, J O’Connor; B O’Connor, N McCarthy, T McCarthy; K Murphy (Sarsfields), A O hAilpín, P Horgan.
CORK (Intermediate Hurling v Tipperary): A Nash (Kanturk); P Fitzgerald (Erins Own), D McSweeney (Blarney), B Murphy (Fr O’Neill’s); J Carey (Dripsey), R Cashman (Kilbrittain), G O’Leary (Fr O’Neill’s); B Coleman (Ballyhea), E Dillon (Milford); R O’Dwyer (Ballymartle), M O’Sullivan (Dripsey), S Moylan (Douglas); M O’Sullivan (Ballyhea), E Collins (Valley Rovers), B Ring (Youghal).
Subs: D McCarthy (Ballymartle), E Clancy (Fermoy), A Mannix (Kilworth), M Collins (Douglas), C Casey (Inniscarra), B Lawton (Castlemartyr), T Cullinane (Douglas), P O’Leary (Blarney), G O’Driscoll (Newcestown).