EVEN though it’s only the second game of the season, Cork footballers are already facing into a must-win encounter against Laois at O’Moore Park tomorrow evening at 7pm.
Last weekend’s four-point loss at the hands of a determined Kildare has upped the ante for Ronan McCarthy’s charges, who face Leinster rivals for the second time in a week.
Laois, who are managed by former Kerry midfielder Micheal Quirke, find themselves in the same situation after a poor display in a seven-point defeat away to Clare in Ennis.
Realistically, another defeat will scupper any chance of contesting the promotion play-off at the end of the three-match series and, instead, will focus attention on retaining their Division 2 status for 2022.
Cork were disappointing against Kildare at a soul-less Thurles when conditions were more akin to winter than mid-May.
Despite an encouraging start, scoring the opening three points and leading by 0-4 to 0-1 after 10 minutes, Cork failed to take advantage of several other scoring opportunities which might have forced Kildare to dilute their cautious approach.
While Cork struggled to add to their tally Kildare kicked their scores with greater ease and fluency to turn around a point in front having been second best for a good chunk of the first period.
Kildare unsettled Cork with their ferocity of their challenges and the number of tacklers challenging the player in possession with the result that Cork coughed up the ball too cheaply, too often.
And when Kildare put on a scoring spurt to lead by 2-12 to 0-9 on the hour, it left Cork too far behind in their slipstream to catch them, though they did score the closing five points, which could be a factor if scoring difference is used to separate teams at the conclusion of the campaign.
One of many improvements required by Cork will be in the area of scoring from play, reflected in just half-a-dozen points from their total of 0-14 the last day.
Captain Ian Maguire and John O’Rourke chipped in with a couple apiece and there was one each for Kevin O’Driscoll and substitute Ciaran Sheehan.
Indeed, in the second half alone Cork could only muster two points from play with Cathail O’Mahony and Brian Hurley registering the rest from frees.
Defensively, too, Cork will have to be tighter and ensure Laois must earn their scores with defenders likely to go man-for-man again and positions having little relevance.
Critically, Cork also have to avoid being sucked into taking the ball into contact because Laois are sure to be just as tenacious in the tackle as Kildare, who benefited from a number of turn-overs.
There is also an anticipated kickback from the home side following their disappointing showing in Ennis and Cork only need to look at Laois’s record in 2020 to know another tough test awaits.
Laois finished fourth in Division 2 last season with a record of three wins, a draw and three defeats to land just behind Kildare with Rosommon and Armagh promoted.
And Quirke’s side were undefeated against the promoted sides, starting with an encouraging 2-14 each draw away to the Rossies before defeating Armagh at home by six points.
It was a very encouraging beginning by Laois and while Cavan defeated them heavily, they bounced back to win in Ennis by a point before a couple of losses disrupted their charge.
After losing at home to Kildare, Laois then went under by eight points away to Westmeath though they did finish up their campaign by winning in Fermanagh by seven.
Laois also have a number of survivors from the last meeting with Cork in 2012, Kieran Lillis and John O’Loughlin while Ross Munnelly came on as a substitute.
In Leinster last season, Laois overcame Longford by two points before meeting their inevitable fate against Dublin, who won by 2-23 to 0-7.
Other players like Donie Kingston, Gary Walsh and Colm Begley are capable operators in what is sure to be a tight game.