Laois' superior forwards to bring Cork back to earth
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round four: Cork v Laois (today, 5pm, Thurles)
NEITHER Cork nor Laois would have been at the forefront of thinking when it came to listing sides for a potential Super 8s place earlier in the year, but they both stand at the doorstep knowing this time next year they could be playing in a ‘B' championship.
With the Rebels relegated to Division Three and Laois stepping into their shoes, the two of them would both be in the second tier next year if Laois went back down and Cork didn't come back up.
Whether their presence on the cusp of the last eight highlights a flaw in the current system or the proposed one (or both) they will hardly be too concerned.
On one hand, this is a great opportunity. On the other, the paths they've taken and their league standing opens legitimate fears that the next step could be so far beyond them that it could knock back any progression.
That's for another day.
Laois had gone away for a while after a decent generation but under John Sugrue, they've won back-to-back promotions and made very identifiable improvements.
At his disposal are a couple of very handy forwards. He's had to rotate them around and the side he's named for this evening is once more without Evan O'Carroll, with the Kingston brothers and the in-form Colm Murphy preferred along with veteran Ross Munnelly.
Cork have dropped their most experienced attacker, Paul Kerrigan, after a quiet Munster final. They travel to Thurles in the rare position of having momentum of their own despite being the side that's lost their provincial decider.
That has often been a decisive factor in round four qualifiers, but Cork will have been buoyed by taking Kerry to the wire. They scored 3-10 and could have had twice as many goals.
Their teamsheet always hints at far greater potential than they've displayed in recent years. Ruairi Deane is in fine form and driving at teams. Mark Collins was excellent against Kerry, while Luke Connolly (two) and Brian Hurley – whose season total is 5-0 - grabbed three opportunistic goals between them.
When their half-back line ran at the Kingdom they caused problems, and Thomas Clancy unsurprisingly keeps his place after doing a fine job on Sean O'Shea.
Laois were always in control against Offaly, and despite needing a late goal they'd been the better side in the second half away to Derry, where they too missed goal chances that could have given them greater command.
The Leinstermen have found a rhythm in defence that was lacking earlier in the year, but they remain without Colm Begley.
One performance doesn't fix all of Cork's woes, and their concern will be if the O'Moore men shut up shop, then it's the underdogs who have the better scoring forwards.
Laois to emerge by two – but winning might do them more harm in the long run than losing does to Cork.
Cork: M White; N Walsh, J Loughrey, K Flahive; L O'Donovan, Thomas Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire, K O'Hanlon; K O'Driscoll, S White, R Deane; L Connolly, B Hurley, M Collins
Laois: G Brody; S Attride, D Booth, G Dillon; T Collins, R Piggot, P O'Sullivan; J O'Loughlin, K Lillis; D O'Reilly, D Kingston, M Scully; R Munnelly, C Murphy, P Kingston