Midway through the post-match conversation with Ronan McCarthy, a passing Ian Maguire, spotting the handful of dictaphones pressed close to the Cork manager, couldn’t but help himself when bellowing at the top of his voice, “Big Ron is at the wheel”.
The Cork manager breaks into a broad grin at his captain’s remark, briefly interrupting his extolling of Maguire and the rest of the panel for delivering on the talent McCarthy has always known to be there.
Right throughout the early stages of the league as the county shipped defeat after defeat, the consequent criticism growing louder and louder, McCarthy never wavered from his stance that this is a group of real quality and ability.
The problem was, as he repeatedly acknowledged, that action needed to replace words. Saturday’s 14-point demolition of Laois offered evidence aplenty of what this group is capable of when they hit stride, with the manager delighting in how the players have “turned a corner”.
Cork, McCarthy declared, are a “top team in the making”.
“They have put in extraordinary amounts of work to get to this point. I just reference a fella like Mattie Taylor. That player came back for pre-season and he had noticeably bulked up.
“Once Cork was beaten last year, he knew he had to get himself up to a certain level, physically. He is just one of the players who went away and showed a massive desire to do that.
“We had a bruising pre-season. I can’t tell you the number of double sessions we had. And it is great to see their work is rewarded. It is not always rewarded, but on Saturday, it has been. We can’t lose from here. This team will have six championship games under their belt at the end of the year and you can’t beat that.”
But, surely, Cork are not simply content to be just among the last eight teams in the championship?
“Every game we have gone out in, we’ve gone out to try and win it. It’ll be no different in the coming weeks. To test yourself against the best is where you want to be and let’s see where that takes us. You come out of Páirc Uí Rinn after round four of the league [Cork failed to win any of their opening four league games] and to be now going up to play the All-Ireland champions in Croke Park, this team will absolutely revel in that challenge. It is a huge challenge, but it is where they need to be.”
He added: “That is 11 games now on the bounce where we have been highly competitive, highly consistent. I feel we are a top team in the making. And I think there is more in us. Easy to say that here tonight, we have the biggest challenge of all this Saturday.”
When asked about the confidence within the group following three impressive championship showings, the manager quipped that it was a lot better than had been the case during a difficult spring.
“That was a phase the team probably had to work through. It appears they have come out the other side of it. They are playing with confidence. You’ll find now that when the game is going against us or we are not playing well, we are hanging in there, still scoring at the other end. They are little indications that we are going in the right direction. This performance was another sign of that.
“Our running game was sensational, at times, yet we mixed it beautifully with diagonal balls in.
“That is the players making good decisions on the pitch. The other side of that is it is a lot easier to make good decisions on the pitch when you are winning comfortably. It allows players to relax and play like that.
“Let’s see can if we do the same thing next Saturday against the All-Ireland champions.”
Laois manager John Sugrue refused to cite their busy schedule of late - Saturday was his team’s third qualifier outing in the space of a fortnight - as reason for their second-half no-show.
“If you go the backdoor route, that is what you are faced with.
“It shouldn’t really be an advantage by going the backdoor.
“Our boys looked a little leggy, but that’s the way it is. At half-time, we probably had something to hold onto and felt we could have made a little bit of progress, but a goal straight after the throw-in, you are facing an uphill battle then. We have made progress, but progress is harder got the further up you go.”