Cork will spend the next two weekends in Croke Park after comfortably securing their place in the Super 8s with this emphatic 14-point dismissal of Laois.
Having come up short at this particular hurdle for the past four years, Cork, bar the opening half an hour or so when this game was still a contest, were never in danger of suffering a fifth straight fourth-round qualifier defeat.
Their reward is a trip to GAA HQ next Saturday to take on All-Ireland champions Dublin in their opening Super 8s fixture, what will be the county’s first championship outing at Croke Park in three years, with Ronan McCarthy’s charges returning to the capital the weekend after to do battle with Tyrone.
Having kicked four without reply at the end of the first-half to lead by 0-12 to 0-7 at the break, Cork had two feet in the All-Ireland quarter-final round-robin stage within 31 seconds of the restart, Brian Hurley rolling the ball into the net after Mark Collins had collected Paul Kerrigan’s perfectly weighted delivery. That goal was the start of an unanswered 2-3 from the winners, with Hurley also responsible for their second green flag. James Loughrey, on this occasion, provided the delivery.
In total, Cork kicked 2-7 without answer from Laois between the 31st and 43rd minute, the gap standing at 14 points when Donie Kingston (free) registered Laois’ first score of the second-half on the three-quarter hour mark. Trevor Collins' effort thereafter was their first from play since the 23rd minute.
Brian Hurley gave the offload to Mark Collins for goal number three, with Michael Hurley teeing up half-time sub Paul Kerrigan for their fourth.
The Rebels had been full value for their five-point 0-12 to 0-7 interval lead, the inside duo of Collins and Hurley time and again having the better of their opposite numbers. The Castlehaven pair were responsible for nine of Cork’s first-half tally, with both men kicking three apiece from play. In total, they contributed 3-12 between them.
The Cork runners coming through from the middle third, such as Ian Maguire, Kevin O’Driscoll, Rúairí Deane, Liam O’Donovan, and Mattie Taylor, were also key figures in the beaten Munster finalists establishing a five-point lead, not alone for keeping the supply lines open to Collins and Hurley but also the manner in which they dominated Graham Brody’s restarts.
The midlanders had enjoyed the upper hand in the opening quarter of an hour, with the influential Donal Kingston (0-3, two frees) and Eoin Lowry, a late replacement for Ross Munnelly, shoving John Sugrue’s men into a 0-4 to 0-3 lead. They’d only kick three points for the remainder of the half, though, and would have been disappointed with their wides tally of seven.
Three-in-a-row from Collins (0-2, one free) and O’Driscoll nudged Cork in front for the first time on the 22nd minute and while Laois did restore parity, four unanswered points approaching half-time put clear and present daylight between them. The gap continued to widen and widen upon the change of ends. Cork’s five-year wait to be involved in the last eight of the championship is over, the question now is how will they fare when matching up to Dublin and Tyrone on successive weekends.
Scorers for Cork: M Collins (1-8, 0-4 frees); B Hurley (2-4); P Kerrigan (1-1); S Sherlock (0-1 ‘45), R Deane (0-2 each); L O’Donovan, K O’Driscoll, R O’Toole (0-1 each).
Scorers for Laois: D Kingston (0-10, 0-7 frees); M Scully (1-0); E Lowry, E O’Carroll, C Murphy, P Kingston, T Collins (0-1 each).
Cork: M White; K Flahive, J Loughrey, K O’Donovan; L O’Donovan, Thomas Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire; K O’Hanlon; K O’Driscoll, S White, R Deane; M Collins, B Hurley, L Connolly.
Subs: R O’Toole for O’Hanlon (21 mins, inj, temporary); P Kerrigan for Connolly (HT); Tomás Clancy Fermoy) for Tom Clancy (Clonakilty, 44 mins, bc); A Browne for Loughrey (46); M Hurley for B Hurley (53); S Cronin for Maguire (62); S Sherlock for Deane (66)
Laois: G Brody; S Attride, D Booth, G Dillon; P O’Sullivan, R Pigott, T Collins; J O’Loughlin, K Lillis; D O’Reilly, P Kingston, M Scully; E Lowry, C Murphy, D Kingston.
Subs: C Begley for O’Sullivan (HT); E O’Carroll for P Kingston (44); S Byrne for O’Reilly, M Barry for Murphy (both 46); D Seale for Booth (56); S O’Flynn for Dillon (63).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).