Cork 0-14 Laois 0-07
The last time Cork played Laois in O’Moore Park they inflicted a heap of pain on the home side.
The Rebels scored 10-20 in an All-Ireland qualifier in 2011 and won by 34 points.
That marked the end of Brendan Fennelly’s tenure as manager but while there were no defeats of that nature under the stewardship of Cork icon, Teddy McCarthy, Laois were relegated to the third tier of the league and shipped a 22-point beating by Dublin in the championship.
Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett agreed to take over the reins last season, only because nobody else would take it on and the impact has been instant.
Cork were always likely to win this on Saturday night, particularly as they led by 0-11 to 0-3 at half time. That was with the aid of a near gale-force wind though, that picked up even further in the second half, to such an extent that Laois goalkeeper, Eoin Reilly actually drove a puckout wide.
While the Rebels should probably have been out of sight, having shot 10 wides in the opening period, they rarely threatened inside, as the sweeper-system Plunkett has adopted so effectively since taking charge ticked along.
Dwane Palmer was the man providing the defensive screen, leaving Stephen McDonnell on his own around the Cork half-back line.
“I have confidence that this team will go places,” said Plunkett. “We still have a lot of work to do. Our feet are absolutely rooted to the ground. But we’ve learned things from tonight.
“But I’ve also learned something else, that Laois hurling can compete at this level and that we’ve got gifted young hurlers that can compete at this level. I think that’s very, very encouraging. I take an awful lot of encouragement out of tonight.”
He revealed his players were “very disappointed”, feeling that this was an opportunity missed. Eoin Reilly had a penalty saved in the 28th minute, while Ross King flashed a shot wide midway through the second half, but in truth, Cork never looked like being pegged back.
“It was tough going, for all the players and the referee as well… I thought it was tough going and [I’m] pleased to get two points” said Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
“We had a lot of wides in the first-half, many of them silly wides. But it’s something to work on. We had a few last weekend as well and we’re concerned about them so it’s something to work on.”
The Cork boss insisted last year that relegation would give him an opportunity to blood more players. He has been true to his word and with Seamus Harnedy and Pa Cronin coming back in for their first appearances after injury, he now has plenty to choose from.
“I was very pleased with a lot of them. Colm Spillane came in and did well, Darren McCarthy in goals was excellent, Mark Ellis at midfield I thought was very good so some positives there from our point of view against Laois, who are a very good team.
“They’re very physical and they’ve a certain style of play which they’re working very hard towards, I know from talking to them. They’ve made huge improvements over the last couple of years.
“It’s a bonus to get game time into Pa and Seamus. We probably shouldn’t have played Pa tonight, it may have been a bit too soon but he’ll get better as the year goes on.”
Christopher Joyce had Cork in front after just nine seconds and within a couple of minutes, Patrick Horgan (free) and Alan Cadogan had added to that tally.
Stephen Maher converted a free at the other end very quickly but Cork had six of the next seven points, with a Maher free splitting two three-point bursts.
Harnedy and Horgan had two points each from that tally and when William Egan drove off his left, from just inside the 65 and tight to the sideline, it was 0-9 to 0-2. That was stretched to eight points by the interval.
Maher reduced the margin to six with two pointed frees soon after the resumption but that was as close as Laois got. It took them until the 53rd minute to register their first and only score from play – a fine effort by Fitzgerald – but Cork were always just doing enough.
Cadogan was much quieter in the second half, but he provided the last score after managing to find a rare amount of space and the win was secured.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (0-6, 5fs), A Cadogan (0-3), S Harnedy (0-2), C Joyce, W Egan, S Moylan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Laois: S Maher (0-6fs), T Fitzgerald (0-1).
CORK: D McCarthy; S O’Neill, S McDonnell, C Spillane, L McLoughlin, C Joyce, W Egan, M Ellis, P Haughney, S Harnedy, J Coughlan, M O’Sullivan, A Cadogan, P Cronin, P Horgan.
Subs for Cork: D Kearney for O’Sullivan (ht), S Moylan for Cronin (ht), R O’Shea for Harnedy (51), C McCarthy for Haughney (56)
LAOIS: E Reilly; JA Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton, J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, C Dunne, P Whelan, C Collier, C Dwyer, J Purcell, S Maher, T Fitzgerald, D Palmer, N Foyle.
Subs for Laois: R King for Foyle blood (21-26), W Hyland for Purcell (34), King for Foyle (ht), J Campion for Dwyer (43), W Dunphy for Phelan (51).
Referee: C Browne (Galway).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved