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'I've been there and it's not easy' - Cork-Waterford games and the suspension factor

The Tadhg de Búrca appeal stirs up memories for our columnist John Gardiner.

I’VE BEEN THINKING about 2007 in the build-up to Sunday’s game between Cork and Waterford.

pjimage Source: INPHO

Ever since Tadhg de Búrca was sent-off against Wexford, Waterford have been fighting to clear his name.

It’s a decade since I was in a similar spot. We beat Clare in the first round of Munster that year but all anyone talked about after was the row when the teams came out of the tunnel. It hung over us in the build-up to the semi-final against Waterford.

It took a lot out of our preparations. There was four of us brought up over it – myself, Sean Óg, Donal Óg and Sully. We didn’t know if we’d be playing and it was hard for the management to settle on their team. It took some focus off us I believe. I was let off at the first meeting, which wasn’t too bad for me as I could get back to concentrating on the Waterford game.

The whole thing dragged on for the other boys as the charges stuck. They went through the next few stages to appeal it. This all went on until the week coming up to the game. In the dressing room, we were all saying to forget about it. But I remember it was impossible to do that. Every time they travelled to Dublin, some of the management were going up and Frank was with them. Those nights we were training away. It was all just a mess.

I’d hope for himself that Tadhg de Búrca gets to play but no matter what Waterford do, it must have been very difficult to manage this situation. I think it must affect the players to some extent. Even if you’re not involved, it’s interfering with your preparations. Lads who are substitutes are wondering are they going to be starting or you could have a situation that a player is named to start but is pulled out at the last minute if a player gets off at the DRA. It’s just very hard for everyone.

There are arguments for and against going down the appeal route. For us in 2007 we looked like we were going to be without three big players and you had to look at the calibre of hurler they were in key positions. You’d want those guys in your team so the option was taken to fight it. That was our thought process and I’m sure Waterford are the same now.

If de Búrca is out, I think Waterford will put Darragh Fives in the sweeper role and just funnel the rest of the team back. Players like Kevin Moran and Austin Gleeson will be able to play comfortably if they filter back. Then they have the option of putting Maurice Shanahan in from the start in attack.

I’d be interested to see how they handle it mentally. Of course Waterford will say that their focus is dead on but I’ve been there and it’s not easy.

When I look back on it, there’s no shortage of memories from the epic games between Cork and Waterford. My first Munster senior final in 2003 was against Waterford. We came through after beating Clare. Nobody expected much of us that year and the final turned out to be one of the classics.

That was the start of it against Waterford. I always found going into games against other teams that we were so well prepared with our system of play but for whatever reason every time we played Waterford, the games seemed to take on a life of their own.

The games were crazy. I think it was summed up by the fact that as a back you could come off after a game like that feeling you’d played well but your man might have hit five or six scores. Those games were just mayhem.

The 2004 Munster final is always remembered for a collection of Waterford moments. Mullane’s sending-off, Paul Flynn’s goal and Ken McGrath’s catch. We were well into it until Mullane was sent-off and I don’t know did we subconsciously think then we’d the game won then. It was just a super game of hurling. Justin McCarthy was their manager which added to it. He’d coached our club in Na Piarsaigh and a lot of other teams in Cork so we knew him well.

The biggest standout memory for me in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final was when Cathal Naughton came on. It was his senior debut for Cork, this young lad from Newtown, and it was very close on the scoreboard. I got a free in the right half-back position and it was a planned move if Joe (Deane) was in the opposite corner.

I was thinking that Cathal was just on and he won’t make that run with the enormity of the occasion for him. But he showed the composure and clear thinking to make the run, got it and popped over a point and went on to get the goal after. He was the match winner for us.

John Gardiner and Seamus Prendergast John Gardiner and Seamus Prendergast in action in 2006 in Croke Park. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The 2010 Munster final was a very strange affair, playing it out on a Saturday night under lights. We should have closed the game out in normal time and in the drawn match as well. That was the year Sean Óg was dropped and they got key late goals both days from Tony Browne and Dan Shanahan.

When you look back on it, there was just so many absolutely great games. My last game against them was in 2012 when we beat Waterford. It was a good and much needed win for us at the time.

I’ve often met guys like Dan Shanahan and John Mullane since then. They’re good lads and we’ve left the rivalry where it was.

On the field we all did absolutely anything to win. The supporters had a really tense rivalry and I think that spilled out onto the pitch when we were playing. You ask the Waterford players and they’d say the same, they’d put everything into winning a Munster final against Cork.

That Waterford team had an amount of talent and guys who would walk onto any side but they just couldn’t manage to get over the line for an All-Ireland. We got the couple and there was an understandable desperation to their efforts to land it.

When they did get to the final in 2008 it was probably a couple years too late for them and not a game they’d like to think about. Kilkenny were just awesome then.

If we get a game close to those standards on Sunday, neutrals will be delighted. Cork’s forwards are in brilliant form and it’s going to be interesting to see can Waterford make a better job of trying to counter them than they did in the Munster semi-final.

I fully expect them to close down the space better. The question then is how Cork handle the pressure of having little room to operate in up front.

Waterford will be thinking this year is one of their best chances with Kilkenny and Tipperary both gone. It’s bonus territory for Cork given the youngsters they have but at the same time for a bunch of their experienced players, they’ve had some tough years and will want to take this chance.

I always found finals would take care of themselves to an extent but the semi-finals were the really tense occasions. It’s the most difficult game, we saw last Sunday how cagey and tactical they can be. There’s so much at stake for both sides. The fear of losing a semi-final can hang over teams.

I’m going to go for Cork to win. I think the Tadhg de Búrca appeal will have been a distraction for Waterford and I think if Cork get their forwards moving in the wide open spaces of Croke Park, they’ll put a winning score up on the board.

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