WELL done to Cork on progressing to the Super 8s.
It has been five years since the Rebels made a quarter-final appearance in Croke Park so team and management deserves much credit for this.
Possession was the winning and losing of the game. Both teams looked dangerous and capable of scoring, it's just, as expected, Cork had the better attack overall. Goals win games and it was as simple as that.
In the 1 v 1 battles up front it was too easy for Cork. Mark Collins and Brian Hurley, in particular, gave massive performances.
Those players were able to win possession uncontested too easily and too often. Forwards of that caliber cannot be left with that much space. Collins' shooting was accurate while Hurley was moving really well and full of danger and confidence.
Defensively there was much to admire from Liam O’Donovan. While still raw and learning, his aggression and work-rate around the tackle area is particularly good. Similar to the Kerry game O’Donovan won some great possession through strong tackling and attacking the ball with massive intent.
The Cork crowd are certainly warming to his efforts.
It didn’t look so bright though in the opening minutes for Cork as Laois settled quicker. Laois were pushing up on kick-outs. Cork lost their first three and looked in a spot of bother, two points down. They appeared nervous but similar to the Kerry game they didn’t panic and worked themselves into the game.
The kick-passing from Laois was top drawer early on, giving the forward the advantage all the time. Donie Kingston was leading the charge, his powerful style putting Kevin Flahive under big pressure.
The kick-out troubles were repeated though at the other end. In the second quarter Laois lost six from 10, which gave Cork a great platform to build their lead. Laois were getting no joy going long or wide to John O’Loughlin, their main target. O’Loughlin tried hard but his efforts were undone by Ian Maguire who broke the ball away on multiple occasions.
The experienced Colm Begley was definitely a loss here for Laois. He came on for the second half and won a couple of short kick-outs to the wing but the main damage was done at this stage.
This domination in the air allowed Cork to create a five-point lead. Cork definitely deserved to be going in a half time in command and could have been further ahead, as there appeared more goal chances available with just one more pass.
Many sports teams target the period after half time in what is termed the 'game-winning quarter'. It was certainly that way in Thurles as they stretched the lead with a devastating 10-minute spell.
The collective work-rate was high but still Laois made it too easy. Laois lost some terrible possession, taking it into contact or just aimlessly kicking it way.
Then again hard work forces players to make poor decisions. Laois turned over the ball five times from their first six possessions of the second half and were punished clinically. Cork's shooting was an area that certainly improved from the Munster final.
Next year Laois will be playing Division 2 and Cork will be in Division 3. In those periods before and after half time, Cork played like a team operating at a higher level.
It makes you question the merits of the second tier championships proposed by GAA President John Horan. Cork are in the Super 8s now but next year could be competing in the lower tier if the new structures get passed. Like many I think it's time for change, but feel the recent proposals need tweaking.
Previewing the game I felt Laois would set up with extra defensive cover but this didn’t happen. During general play Piggot, at six, was able to drop back as a sweeper but this wasn't an option after a kick-out as Piggot was either pushing up on his man or he was trying to be an option.
I was surprised Laois didn’t shut down more space as the full-back line looked so vulnerable. Then again operating at Division 3 level Laois didn’t experience the same attacking pace and ability as Cork provided.
So many positives but there is plenty still to focus on next week at training. Considering the high standards and consistency in the group, the way they performed in the last 20 minutes will be a disappointment.
Once Cork went into a considerable lead, levels of concentration, movement and execution of the basics left them down. Down the home stretch Cork lost six of their kick-outs in a row. Granted the game was never in danger and they'd made many changes but this cannot happen over the next few weeks.
It interesting how you see it so many times with different teams where performance levels drop once they feel the game is won. This is something Dublin don’t struggle with, and another reason why they're so good.
It was great to see supporters mingling with the players after the game on the pitch. There isn’t always the chance to do this, particularly after a big championship win.
This benefits the players and supporters alike going forward. The players have given the supporters much to be proud of right now.