With seven changes from the starting line-up, Kilkenny were a long way removed from the team that completed the four-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles last September, and were also reduced to 14 men for all the second half, yet Cork struggled to put them away.
Still a lot of work to be done then in Cork, and well Gardiner knows it.
“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 (against Waterford, away), we know we’re going to have to improve.”
It was pretty intense stuff from start to finish, even featuring a melee just before half-time, which cost Kilkenny Michael Grace to a red card. Last year’s 27 points humiliation in Nowlan Park was a factor in that, making this a revenge mission of sorts, but it was also about keeping the momentum going for this season, a third win in three games in what’s going to be a cut-throat league.
“I suppose it (Nowlan Park) was brought up a small bit. Last year wasn’t a true reflection of Cork and we wanted to show that. We’re just trying to put in a competitive performance and we’re happy enough with the way it went.
“The win was important but it’s a league match, it’s March, both teams are in heavy training, they were missing a few, we were missing a few. Yes it means two more points on the board but we’re not getting carried away, we’re happy to move on now.”
What should be remembered about that game in Kilkenny last year was that Cork were back only a couple of weeks from their protracted and bitter dispute with the county board. Factor in limited preparation and they were fair game for a hiding by a hyped up and well-motivated Kilkenny.
For the match on Sunday, however, they were in a much different position as regards preparation. “Exactly – we’ve a lot of heavy training behind us at this stage, where last year we hadn’t really got a lot done. We’re still in the main phase of training, go back again next week, another league game to look forward to.”
And – in contrast to many another year – the league is a priority for Cork in 2010.
“I suppose, yes, we’ve only realised how important it is when we didn’t have the couple of league games last year and the year before. We have a few new fellas coming in and the National League will help those fellas to come on and 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.”
No, but given all the circumstances before and during the match, if Cork had lost then many of the 10,000+ supporters who were in Páirc Uí Chaoimh would have been unhappy heading for home, possibly many of the players too.
In that sense then, getting the win became critical, especially as the game went on – a Kilkenny team reduced in power, and now reduced in numbers, simply had to be beaten, or it would have had a major negative psychological impact, surely?
Gardiner challenges that theory. “I wouldn’t think so, it was still only a league match. Whether they have 14 or 15, they’re after winning the All-Ireland title for the last four years in a row, so we were going to be up against it. It would have been a huge disappointment if we’d lost it but thankfully we won.”
Redresses a little imbalance then, but no more than that? “Yes, that’s probably the most important thing we take out of it. I said already, that wasn’t a true reflection of Cork – this was probably a truer reflection, but it’s still only two points.”