Super stuff from the Cork footballers to set up a crack at Dublin in Croker

Super stuff from the Cork footballers to set up a crack at Dublin in Croker
Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

THE Cork footballers proved their excellent display in the Munster final was no fluke by torching Laois at Semple Stadium.

The reward is a trip to Croke Park against Dublin next Saturday, while the other Super 8 games will be a week later against Tyrone, also on Jones' Road, and a home tie with Roscommon on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

None of them will easy and, given the Red Hand humiliated Cork a year ago and Dublin are one of the greatest teams of all time, but what a buzz the Rebels and their loyal supporters got from the performance on Saturday. Laois are no football superpower, but then Cork haven't exactly been a force in recent seasons, and they had no answer either side of half-time.

Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

This was terrific stuff, a joy to watch, as the Leesiders produced a blend of hard running, measured kick-passing and unselfish offloads to tally 4-16 from play. The crowd of 6,114 was packed with Laois natives but the Corkonians made plenty of noise too and the players appreciated the praise heaped on them afterward.

We're used to seeing the hurlers posing for selfies and getting asked for their jerseys, so this was a new and welcome experience for the footballers.

They'll be massive underdogs to get beyond the Super 8s and make an All-Ireland semi-final, but Cork are already in bonus territory considering they were relegated to Division 3 after a worryingly poor league.

The Rebels hit a hurling score in a ground synonymous with the small ball game, led by Brian Hurley and Mark Collins' brilliance in a two-man full-forward line. 

One of the issues for football in the county lately has been the lack of heroes for youngsters to look up to. Well, the Haven hit-men showed all the skills of the game in Thurles, their great movement and lethal finishing bringing the fans to their feet.

They were deadly throughout, hitting three points from play each in the first half to drive Cork into a 0-12 to 0-7 lead, before blitzing Laois on the restart.

By the time the Leinster side hit their eighth point in the 44th minute, Cork had blasted 2-3 to put the game to bed. Ronan McCarthy and his selectors had the luxury of withdrawing Hurley, for his brother Michael who teed up Paul Kerrigan for the fourth goal, in the 52nd minute.

Mark Collins hits a goal. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Mark Collins hits a goal. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

At that juncture, the number 14 had 2-4 from play and repaid Mark Collins with an assist for the third goal. Their final total was 3-8, with Collins' three frees meaning they outscored Laois themselves.

Cork were exceptional in every sector after a sluggish opening 10 minutes which saw John Sugrue's charges eke out a two-point lead. It was 0-8 to 0-7 to Cork after 29 minutes but by the end of the third quarter, the favourites had buried Laois, outscoring them 3-9 to 0-2.

Ian Maguire lorded the midfield sector, Liam O'Donovan and Mattie Taylor bombed up from wing-back at every opportunity and Ruairí Deane was top-class, again, chipping in with 0-2 and multiple assists.

Paul Kerrigan was a fine impact sub, nailing 1-1, and the likes of James Loughrey, sub Ronan O'Toole, in for the injured Killian O'Hanlon, deep-lying centre-forward Seán White and keeper Mark White, were all terrific. 

Ronan O'Toole bursts past John O'Loughlin. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Ronan O'Toole bursts past John O'Loughlin. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Kevin O'Driscoll has been oft-criticised over the years, haven't they all you might say, but he was as integral as anyone to the margin of victory. He only scored once but he covered every blade of grass and covered across the half-back line to facilitate Taylor and O'Donovan's marauding bursts from their wings. 

Cork have now scored a staggering 10 goals in three games. While the Dublin defence is superior to what they faced in Limerick, Kerry and Laois, they can be vulnerable to a direct approach.

The big question is whether Maguire and O'Hanlon or O'Toole will secure enough primary possession to give Hurley and Collins the service they deserve. 

In the wide expanses of Croker, White and O'Driscoll are going to have to cover so much ground to try and clog up the channels for the Dublin counter-attack, when O'Donovan and Taylor bomb past midfield.

Mattie Taylor runs up the field. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Mattie Taylor runs up the field. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

There are a few calls to make on the starting 15 as well. The selectors were ruthless in replacing Luke Connolly at the break but they might give him another opportunity on Jones Road, given his fine showing and two goals against Kerry.

Eoghan McSweeney's absence with a hip injury is a loss as he's capable of stitching points from distance. A must against the Dubs.

Anyway, that's next weekend's problem. For now we'll savour this!

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