IN his first five years with the Cork senior hurlers John Gardiner played in four Munster finals. Now he’s happy to be back in the summer showpiece, and back against this Sunday’s opponents.
“It’s great to be in a Munster final again, and against Waterford particularly. We’ve had some classic battles with them over the years and there’s no reason to think this will be any different.
“Going into any other game you can probably predict what the other team is going to do most of the time, but with Waterford you can’t even predict who you’ll be marking.
“They switch here, there and everywhere up front, and that probably comes down to raw talent more than tactics – that’s why the games have been so good.
“It’s always been the same – even when Justin (McCarthy) was in charge you might as well have thrown the programme out the window because they never lined out that way. Any of their players can play in any position, which is a tribute to their talent, whereas against the likes of Tipperary and Kilkenny you can predict how they’ll set up.’’
“It’s not like that with Waterford, so it comes down to one-on-one battles.”
Gardiner is more familiar than most with one of Cork’s newcomers, a clubmate of the wing-back, and expects Waterford to come up with a plan to counteract their understanding on the field.
“Aisake (O hAilpín) has been great for us, he’s a huge option and he’s something different for us in terms of forwards.
“He gives us a big physical presence up front and against Tipperary he was excellent. Hopefully he can continue with that.
“There’s no doubt that they’ll look at the supply of ball that went into Aisake against Tipp and look at cutting that out. It’s up to us, then, to be ready for that and either prepare to do something different or to keep that approach.
“Things have gone well for us, but it’s not just the players like Aisake, that goes all the way to number 34 on the panel. Everyone has put in a huge effort all year.
“The Tipp game was what we’d focused on since the start of the year, and we were happy we came out on the right side of that one.”
Now Cork go back to Semple Stadium for the Munster final. Gardiner says they’re looking forward to their trip to Tipp. “I’ve had the privilege of playing there for eight or nine seasons, and it’s just a special place.
“The playing surface is probably the best in the country and the Cork crowd seem to love going up there. It’s a great atmosphere and it brings out the best in everyone.”
Waterford will be hoping that holds true for their side. Gardiner pays tribute to their manager Davy Fitzgerald.
“Davy seems to have them well drilled – at times this year against Clare they looked like they were struggling but he made some moves and got the best out of the team. We’re under no illusions about what we’re up against it,’’ Gardiner said.
“We know what we can do but we know what Waterford can do as well. They’re a quality side and it’s going to be very difficult.”
Gardiner says Cork will be in top condition for the battle.
“A lot of the lads looked after themselves in December and trained hard when we got back.
“We would have looked back and felt we didn’t do ourselves justice over the last couple of years, so we earmarked this as a year we’d leave nothing undone. Fellas have looked after themselves really well and in fairness, the backroom staff have been keeping us in good shape – not many lads have carried injuries.
“In fairness, Waterford are in good physical shape themselves, not just us, and it’s just the level you have to be at.”
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