This evening in Thurles, the Laois and Cork footballers will meet in Round 4 of the All Ireland Qualifiers.
The prize for the winners is a place in the new-fangled Super 8s and three more championship games at the height of the summer.
Whoever comes out on top can look forward to two trips to Croke Park (against Dublin and then Tyrone or Cavan) and then a home game against Roscommon in early August. The top two teams in that group can then look forward to an All Ireland semi-final appearance.
It’ll be the first time that Laois and Cork have ever met in the All Ireland football championship.
But given the massive rivalry that existed between the counties at underage level from 2004 to 2007 – when both were among the top underage sides in the county – it’s a fixture that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the latter stages of the All Ireland series during the years after that.
Between 2004 and 2007, Laois and Cork met five times at either minor or U-21.
In 2004, Laois won an All Ireland minor quarter-final after a replay, in 2006, with many of the same players, Cork won the U-21 All Ireland semi-final after a replay.
Then, in 2007, Cork won the biggest game of all between the two – the All Ireland U-21 final in Thurles, a match Cork won thanks to a late goal from Colm O’Neill.
It’s a defeat that still hurts those involved. They led by three points with five minutes to go. And it was a game that brought the curtain down on that glorious underage era, one that saw Laois win an All Ireland minor in 2003, Leinster minors in 2004, 2005 and 2007 and Leinster U-21s in 2006 and 2007.
But that Cork rivalry was bubbling for a couple of years and ahead of tonight’s game, we look back at the various meetings.
2004 – All Ireland minor quarter-final
Laois 1-9 Cork 1-9
This one was never remembered for the game itself – rather a massive free-for-all that broke out under the Mackey Stand in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick at the end of normal time.
Laois had led for most of the game and after Stephen O’Leary’s second-half goal looked the most likely winners.
But Cork took the lead late on when Denis Crowley punched to the net from close range only for Donie Brennan (who’d played for the Laois seniors in the Leinster final only a week earlier).
Michael Daly’s final whistle meant that extra time would have to be played – but it didn’t work out that way.
As the teams made their way to the dressing rooms on what was a roasting hot day, all hell broke loose with nearly all of the players, subs, extended panel members, backroom members and county board officials from both sides involved to some extent.
In the circumstances, Daly decided not to play extra time and GAA’s disciplinary arm came down heavy on both sides with five Laois players, three Cork players and a Cork selector all hit with bans of eight to 12 weeks. Cork selector Keith Ricken was suspended for 48 weeks. The two counties were both also fined €5,000.
The Laois player suspended included goalkeeper Eoin Culliton and midfielder Brendan Quigley, both of whom would go on to play senior for Laois. Panel members Mark and Kieran Delaney and Adrian Whelan were also suspended.
The whole episode left a sour taste with Laois who felt they’d been singled out disproportionately to what other counties had been hit with. And while Laois would win the replay, their hopes of winning back-to-back All Ireland titles were ended by Kerry in the semi-final.
LAOIS: Eoin Culliton; Cahir Healy, Mark Timmons, Bryan Meredith; Kevin Smith, Colm Begley, Niall Donoher (0-1); Brendan Quigley, Craig Rogers; Ian Fleming (0-1), Stephen O’Leary (1-0), Enda Butler; Michael Tierney (0-4, two frees, one ’45), Donie Brennan (0-2), David Conway (0-1). Sub: Shane O’Neill for Butler
CORK: Ken O’Halloran; Stephen O’Donoghue, Kevin O’Halloran, Kevin Harrington; Michael Shields, Niall Horgan, Eoin Cadogan; Andrew O’Sullivan, Cathrach Keane; Denis Crowley (1-1), Daniel Goulding (0-1), Paul Kerrigan (0-1); Fintan Gould (0-1), Colm Callanan (0-2), Kevin Canty (0-2, one free). Subs: Andy Concannan (0-1, free) for Goulding, Fiachra Lynch for Kerrigan
Laois 1-10 Cork 0-6
Three weeks after the controversial drawn game, Laois and Cork were re-fixed to meet in the replay in Thurles.
Both sides were depleted (Cork were without future seniors Michael Shields and Andrew O’Sullivan with Laois down Quigley and Culliton) but it was Laois who coped better and put in an excellent display to win by seven points.
On a horrible day of wind and rain, Laois played against the elements in the opening half but blitzed Cork just before the break with a goal from Ian Fleming and a string of points to take a 1-7 to 0-4 lead into the dressing rooms.
On a day like that that lead was unassailable. In the end Laois were comfortable winners – but Kerry proved just too strong a week later in Croke Park in the All Ireland semi-final before they themselves lost narrowly to Tyrone in the final.
LAOIS: Colm Munnelly; Cahir Healy, Mark Timmons, Bryan Meredith; Kevin Smith, Colm Begley, Niall Donoher; Enda Butler, Craig Rogers; Shane O’Neill (0-1), Michael Tierney (0-2, both frees), Stephen O’Leary; Ian Fleming (1-1), Donie Brennan (0-3), David Conway (0-3). Sub: Danny Reddin for O’Leary
CORK: Ken O’Halloran; Stephen O’Donoghue, Kevin O’Halloran, Kevin Harrington; Stephen Keohane, Niall Horgan, Eoin Cadogan; Fintan Gould, Cathrach Keane (0-1); Denis Crowley, Colm Callanan (0-1), Paul Kerrigan; Daniel Goulding (0-3, two frees), Andy Concannan, Kevin Canty (0-1). Subs: Fiachra Lynch for Concannan, David Limrick for Harrington, Roy Leahy for Kerrigan, David McCarthy for Kerrigan
2006 – All Ireland U-21 semi-final
Laois 2-13 Cork 2-13 – After extra time
Two years on from the minor saga, Laois and Cork met again with many of the same players.
At the time Cork were utterly dominant in Munster in U-21 level and Laois’s minor teams of 2003, 2004 and 2005 were making an impact in Leinster at the grade.
So it came to pass that met in the 2006 All Ireland U-21 semi-final. And what a classic it proved to be.
Played in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick again – but on the same day that Munster played Leinster in the Heineken Cup semi-final, the crowd was down.
Laois got off to a disastrous start by conceding two goals in the opening 13 minutes but they fought back well and forced extra time thanks to a late punched point from David Murphy.
In extra time they went ahead by two only for Cork to regain the lead again. Laois needed an injury time equaliser from Chris Bergin to force a replay.
Among Laois’s top performers that day were Donie Brennan with 1-2 and captain Peter McNulty, who hit four points from play. Peter sadly died in 2010.
LAOIS: Conor Gorman; Cahir Healy, Mark Timmons, Bryan Meredith; Craig Rogers, Cathal Ryan, Peter O’Leary (0-1); Brendan Quigley, David Murphy (0-2); Donie Brennan (1-2), Chris Bergin (0-1), Peter McNulty (0-4); Michael Tierney (0-1, free), Colm Kelly (Stradbally) (0-1, free), Colm Kelly (St Joseph’s). Subs: Rory Stapleton for Meredith, Niall Donoher (0-1) for Bergin, Stephen O’Leary (1-0) for Tierney, Chris Bergin for P O’Leary
CORK: Ken O’Halloran; Ray Carey, Chris Murphy, Stephen O’Donoghue; David Limerick, Michael Shields (0-1), Eoin Cadogan; Alan O’Connor, Patrick Kelly (0-1); Fintan Gould (0-5, one free, one ’45), Brian COtter, Paul Kerrigan (1-2); Daniel Goulding (1-1), Paul O’Flynn, James Murphy (0-1, free). Subs: Colm Callanan for O’Flynn, Andrew O’Sullivan for Cotter, Cathrach Keane (0-1) for Kelly, Fiachra Lynch (0-1) for Murphy, Paul O’Flynn for Callanan
Cork 1-7 Laois 0-8
Six days later the sides met again in Limerick. This time it proved a bridge too far for Laois.
The sides were level at half time and Laois were ahead early in the second half but Cork were dominating possession and soon made it tell when Cathrach Keane fired a goal past Conor Gorman.
Laois battled as hard as they could to force extra time again but Cork were four up entering injury time and while Laois got two late points, Cork held on. A week later, Cork lost the All Ireland final narrowly to Mayo.
LAOIS: Conor Gorman; Cahir Healy, Mark Timmons, Rory Stapleton; Craig Rogers, Cathal Ryan, Peter O’Leary; David Murphy, Brendan Quigley; Chris Bergin, Donie Brennan, Peter McNulty; Michael Tierney (0-2), Colm Kelly (Stradbally) (0-4, one free), Colm Kelly (St Joseph’s) (0-1). Subs: Niall Donoher for Bergin, Stephen O’Leary for McNulty, Kevin Meaney (0-1) for Murphy, Darren Strong for Kelly (St Joseph’s0
CORK: Ken O’Halloran; Ray Carey, Chris Murphy, Stephen O’Donoghue; David Limerick, Michael Shields, Eoin Cadogan; Alan O’Connor, Patrick Kelly; Fintan Gould (0-1), Cathrach Keane (1-0), Paul Kerrigan; Daniel Goulding (0-3), Paul O’Flynn (0-2), John Hayes (0-1, free). Subs: James Murphy for Hayes, Fiachra Lynch for O’Flynn
2007 – All Ireland U-21 final
Cork 2-10 Laois 0-15
This is the one that really got away.
Under Sean Dempsey, who’d overseen so many great days for Laois minor and U-21 teams over the previous five seasons, this was the culmination of it all.
And on the biggest day, Laois put in arguably their best performance of all those years.
Unfortunately, it fell just short. They were cruelly denied as Cork got a late goal from Colm O’Neill to level it – and then a winning point from Daniel Goulding.
While they were too young for the minor encounter in 2004, 2007 saw the arrival of John O’Loughlin and Donie Kingston.
O’Loughlin, still a minor, was centre-back on that team while Kingston, only 16 at the time and minor for another year, came on as a sub.
O’Loughlin, Kingston, Mark Timmons and Brendan Quigley are still part of the senior panel while Colm Begley missed those U-21 campaigns as he was in Australia at the time playing professionally with the Brisbane Lions.
LAOIS: Colm Munnelly; Cahir Healy, Mark Timmons, Bryan Meredith; Stephen Lawlor, John O’Loughlin, Niall Donoher; Brendan Quigley, Cathal Og Greene; Donie Brennan, Craig Rogers, Stephen O’Leary; MJ Tierney, Shane O’Neill, David Conway. Subs: Donie Kingston for O’Neill; Ian Fleming for O’Leary.
The other Laois panel members that day were: Eoin Culleton (Timahoe), Darren Maher (Stradbally), Daithi Carroll (The Heath), Jack Fennell (Portlaoise), Kieran Delaney (Park-Ratheniska), Mark Delaney (Park-Ratheniska), Simon Shortall (Annanough), Enda Butler (St Joseph’s), Kevin Smith (Graiguecullen), Richie Ryan (Ballylinan), Martin Reilly (St Joseph’s).