BY DENIS HURLEY
WHEN Laois pitched up to Páirc Uí Rinn on the May bank holiday Monday for a challenge game with Cork, it’s doubtful that many present anticipated a meeting with a Super 8s place at stake.
Thurles is the setting this Saturday evening as Cork seek to build on a largely encouraging display against Kerry in the Munster final. McCarthy will use the May game as a chance to forearm the Rebels against the O’Moore County, but he isn’t placing huge store in it.
‘That game was played a time of year when fellas were doing exams and all that,’ he says.
‘But look, we were strong and would have had a lot of the players who started the Munster final against Kerry. Laois, too, had a lot of their main players.
‘It was a very competitive game, very high-scoring. I think there was a point or two in it, in the end. It is a help to them and us that we played each other. Look, we’ll use whatever knowledge we got from that on Saturday.’
Of the 12 teams left in the championship, Laois are the only county to have played below Division 2 during the league, though their promotion means that they have swapped places with Cork for 2020.
They come into Saturday on the back of wins over Derry and Offaly, having lost to Meath in the Leinster semi-final.
‘They have played a lot of games, they’ve had back-to-back promotions, people also forget they were in a Leinster final last year,’ McCarthy says.
‘I don’t know John Sugrue but he seems to have done a really, really good job. But look, they have always been a county with talented players. And they have them now. They have real talent up front. They will be a handful for us.
‘[Selectors] Seán Hayes and Eddie [Kirwan] were up [at the Offaly match]. Where you can, it is better to have someone there looking at it. We must also focus on ourselves. When we came back training after the Kerry match, we obviously didn’t know who we were going to be playing.
‘Our emphasis was on improving the aspects of our game that we weren’t happy with. That will continue this week again.’
McCarthy certainly won’t allow a Munster final hangover as a valid excuse for an under-performance.
‘Win or lose, there is such a build up to these finals for week and week, you are all the time ratcheting up,’ he says.
‘Because of that, there is automatically a lull after it, win or lose. It does take the bones of three or four days to get back into the run of things and I think I said after the Kerry game, thank God we have two weeks.
‘I remember in 2015 when we lost to Kerry in the replay below in Killarney and then we were out the following weekend against Kildare, I wonder had we any chance really. Crazy, but it is an awful lot to ask a team to go out six days later on the back of a defeat.
‘Luckily, we don’t have to do that. That is not an excuse for us now. We have had two full weeks to prepare.’
The landscape is certainly brighter than a year ago, when Cork lost to Kerry by 17 points and then fell to Tyrone in the qualifiers on a 16-point margin. This time, Cork will go in as favourites, with a great opportunity to make the Super 8s, but McCarthy doesn’t want to frame it in such terms.
‘I am very slow to answer the question because you are already then jumping ahead,’ he says.
‘It is vital for the development of the team, but we are keeping our focus on Saturday because the danger is here that if you are looking at the next step, you fall at the first one.
‘Let’s focus on Sunday. Let’s get there first and then we can talk about the benefits of it. I don’t want to look any further than Saturday.’