Hurley and Collins drive rampant Rebels into elite company
Cork 4-20 Laois 1-15
It's been some season for Cork football and there may be a twist or two left in it for the Rebels. But there is no disputing the value of this win in Thurles on Saturday night for the Leesiders.
In the next month they will take on both of last year's All-Ireland finalists, Dublin and Tyrone, and then entertain Connacht champions Roscommon at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
They are back rubbing shoulders with the big boys and the ignominy of their springtime relegation to Division 3 fades a little further.
They turned on the style to demolish Laois at Semple Stadium and while the quality of the challenge from John Sugrue's men faded badly, a score of 4-20 with just three wides can't be ignored.
Brian Hurley and Mark Collins, who scored 3-12 between them, will get a lot more attention in the coming weeks than they suffered in Thurles on Saturday evening but the Castlehaven pair showed what they can do if the quality of ball coming in is good.
Manager Ronan McCarthy said they are now in a position to develop further having achieved the goal of making it to the 'Super 8s'.
"We were very disappointed after the Kerry game, we felt we could win the game, we felt we should have, we have regrets about small things, we're only talking about one or two per cent.
"But obviously Kerry are a top team, probably top two, and we mixed it with a top team and we weren't found wanting. Now we'll mix it with another three top teams and we'll come away from the Super 8s with a fairly good indication of what level we are at. We have a massive task ahead of us, we are playing the All-Ireland champions and last year's All-Ireland finalists one week after the other, but we are in Croke Park.
"That's so big for this group of players and I think they will actually revel in the setting, the national scene, the top grade, you are talking elite level here. Let's bring our A-game and see where it takes us."
Cork knew they needed to back up their decent Munster final showing against Kerry and they did that in style with Collins and Hurley superb in front of goal.
They hit 3-12 between them as Cork pulled away in the second half, having finished the opening half strongly to lead by five at the break.
But they quickly built on that 0-12 to 0-7 interval lead with Hurley, who scored 2-4, getting his first goal after being set up by Collins.
He hit his second goal after 42 minutes to help Cork push 2-15 to 0-7 in front and all that remained to be decided after that was the margin of victory as Laois' season fizzled out in a game where the Leesiders kicked just three wides.
"We have massive quality in the team, huge competition for places," added McCarthy. "It was great to see, for example, Ronan O'Toole come in today. He hasn't been used really, used in the Limerick match, but came in today and he played really well, and added to us.
"That's what you want. He has had to wait for his chance but he took it today with both hands."
Laois just were not able to respond to that powerful showing and while they were in contention for most of the opening half, they faded badly.
"We thought there was an angle or two to work on in the second half with regard to gather ourselves and trying to get back into the game," said Laois manager Sugrue.
"But they sucker-punched us twice and there's lots of things with regards to pressing the ball out the field, winning our own kick-outs, and the pressure on their inside line.
"The blame lies with ourselves. We made progress in the league, we made no progress in the championship. We worked hard but there's a lot more to work on."
Collins, who finished with 1-8, got their third goal and Paul Kerrigan completed the rout in the closing stages of an impressive display.