CORK and Laois will view the draw in the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers as a great opportunity to progress to the Super 8s.
I think it will provide a good barometer of each team’s standing right now.
Time on the training ground will be reduced this week to ensure freshness for the game. Since they didn’t know their opposition until last Monday, it didn’t leave too much time to do specific on-field preparation.
This restricted time with players is what forced French native Regis Sonness, ex-Bandon rugby head coach, to be a better coach.
I was fascinated to hear more about Sonnes who recently helped coach professional rugby team Toulouse to win the Top 14 this year. He returned to France at the end of last year after spending two successful seasons coaching Bandon’s junior team.
Like GAA players, junior rugby players may only train on a Tuesday and Thursday night, compared to a professional player who could have multiple sessions across the week.
Sonnes claimed that this challenged him to ensure the planning and delivery of his sessions had to improve as he had less time with his players. An interesting point considering a GPA study revealed that inter-county players have a ratio of nine training sessions for every game.
There were meetings in the Cork and Laois camps on Monday evening to finalise training details for the week no doubt. Decisions here can have a big impact come game day.
Last year Laois were well beaten by Monaghan at this stage. On review, Laois manager John Sugrue would have acknowledged there was a noticeable gap in performance between the two teams.
This was to be expected. Monaghan are an established Division 1 side whereas Laois had just been promoted from division four.
Based on this year’s performances, Cork will be a step below to what Laois faced against Monaghan last year. Nevertheless, overcome the challenge of Cork, and Laois can rightly say they have made further progress.
Meanwhile, with Cork’s relegation to division three this year, a win over Laois tomorrow would confirm relegation was due to underperformance rather than a reflection of the ability within the panel. This is a game Cork certainly can win.
Kerry native Sugrue has brought a disciplined and measured approach to Laois. Early kick passing and isolating forwards are encouraged, similar to any Kerry team.
More importantly, what Sugrue has developed is the team’s ability to grind out a win. Laois’ performances in their first two qualifiers have been inconsistent, but they have still found a way to win. That is a habit that was ingrained during the many close encounters in the league this year.
This week Laois will need that consistency. If their work-rate or use of possession is down then I think Cork have the pace and running game to really punish them.
Also, Sugrue has previous experience as a trainer with the Kerry seniors in 2007 and 2008 — a Kerry team that lost to Cork in Munster, but came back to defeat their great rivals in the All-Ireland series.
I am sure Sugrue will tap into those experiences when looking to gain an edge this weekend.
Meath’s pace troubled Laois in Croke Park in the Leinster semi-final, with two goals conceded from strong running by midfielder Brian Fenton. Similarly, last year in the comprehensive defeat in the qualifiers Monaghan had numerous goal chances. This would be a concern for Laois when facing better opposition.
Sugrue has mentioned many times the importance of organisation and sticking to the plan. Tightening up at the back and limiting Cork’s goal chances will be imperative.
A key part here will be the marking of Ruairí Deane. This is where the experienced Colm Begley is a big loss since picking up an Achilles injury in the Westmeath game.
Kerry didn’t push up as I’d expected on Cork’s kick-out, but it’s an area where Laois had particular joy in their championship outings versus Westmeath and Derry. Therefore it’s an area you would expect Laois to target. Prevent Cork from gaining possession while providing themselves with a platform to deliver quick ball to their imposing forward line.
The Laois inside line appears dangerous, but the Offaly game still has been the only championship game where Laois have scored more than 12 points.
Whether that was down to inferior opposition or improved performance, the next match will reveal more as you feel a greater scoring return will be required.
Provided he is fit, I would expect Clonakilty’s Thomas Clancy to return to the starting team. He is the ideal player to mark Donie Kingston, particularly if Kingston spends considerable time at 14.
Laois will not bring the same threat and pace on the counter-attack as Kerry, but Cork must learn from the number of goal opportunities Kerry had.
In championship, goals can be a momentum changer and teams who appeared struggling for scores can suddenly add on a couple of extra points at their ease.
This is the match Laois have been building towards since last year. I don’t think we will get the open shoot- out that many are expecting and Laois will retreat and shut down the space for Cork to run through.
There is a saying “it’s only a mistake if you learn from it”.
Well, the team that has learned the most over the last 12 months will dictate who will be heading to Croke Park next week to face the champions Dublin.
I tip Cork to be there.