Hurling at its best, as seen in the last two Septembers, remains a game of unequalled skill and scope, but Saturday’s slaughter in Portlaoise was a shocking and painful reminder of just how deep-rooted the problems are in the code’s more marginal counties.
Nobody can say they didn’t see this coming.
The amount of double digit championship defeats Laois have suffered over the past decade had, in itself, reached double digits long before Cork rewrote the record books in O’Moore Park.
Galway alone have claimed 27, 22 and 20-point victories over the midland county in that span and even Antrim – no stranger to dark days themselves — had 10 points to spare in the qualifiers when the sides met back in 2007.
It isn’t just the qualifiers either. Five of those hammerings mentioned above came in the Leinster Championship which begs the question: what are Laois doing competing (a term we use loosely) for the Liam MacCarthy Cup?
“We’ve problems in the Cork Club Championship, never mind anything else,” said Cork manager Denis Walsh, “but I would honestly say that from what I’ve seen of Laois in challenge matches they’re well worth having in the top tier.
“Carlow are making great strides as well so they’re well worth it. They have a base and a tradition in fairness and I’m disappointed for Laois and their players after this, to be honest with you.”
The GAA’s repository of such records is, unfortunately, far from comprehensive but the one comparable result that came to mind was the 1954 All-Ireland semi-final when Wexford hit Antrim for 12-17 and Nicky Rackard scored seven goals and seven points.
There were murmurs of discontent about the manner in which Cork continued the hunt for goals in the second-half long after Laois had been put to the sword but the visitors were in town to do a job.
“To be fair, the first-half was a fairly physical encounter and we were trying to force the issue a bit too much,” said Walsh. “We were seven points up at half-time, but we were disappointed with our display, to be truthful.
“There were no harsh words at half-time but at the same time we were a little lax with our finishing and trying to force the issue too much.
“We were trying to get goals when maybe things weren’t on.”
That said, they had already raised three green flags by the interval, one each from their trio of inside forwards, although Willie Hyland’s equivalent effort for Laois after 29 minutes kept some perception of equality alive through the turnaround.
When Noel Costelloe pointed for the hosts six minutes into the second-half, the deficit came down to six — “two scores” as one optimistic punter put it at the time – but the game was dead by the time Matthew Whelan claimed his side’s next score 59 minutes in.
Cork pummelled their hosts for 5-7 in between with Paudie O’Sullivan and Pat Horgan claiming their hat-tricks in the midst of it all and Jamie Coughlan pouncing for the last two after being sent on as a substitute.
The grapevine has long been emitting positive signals about young Coughlan from Newtownshandrum but it was impossible to gauge his or anyone else’s potential or performance under such unique circumstances.
Bill Cooper was another example of that.
The Youghal clubman made his first championship start at centre-forward and finished with 1-3, but all bar one of his points were secured in garbage time so what did it all tell Walsh that he didn’t already know?
“We know we’ve talented players but maybe the one thing that was missing was that lads weren’t understanding that you can’t really let the opposition play. If we let Offaly play next Saturday they’ll go on and go on and go on and pick up gears from there.”
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (3-11, 6 frees); P O’Sullivan (3-1); J Coughlan (2-0); B Cooper (1-3); L O’Farrell (1-0); N McCarthy (0-3); B O’Connor (0-1); J Gardiner (0-1 free).
Scorers for Laois: W Hyland (1-4, 0-1 free); N Foyle (0-2); J Brophy (0-3); M Whelan (0-2 frees); N Costelloe (0-1); G Reddin (0-1).
Subs for Cork: J Coughlan for O’Farrell (52); J O’Connor for Kenny (53); R Curran for Gardiner (53); C O’Sullivan for Murphy (57); C Naughton for McCarthy (57); Subs for Laois: S Dollard for Holohan (47); W Dunphy for Burke (54); J Prior for Dunne (61); D Peacock for Reddin (64); Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).