independent

Sunday 25 February 2018

Superb second-half show

Wexford 0-21 Cork 1-14

Brendan Furlong

Jack O’Connor surges clear of Cork duo Darragh Fitzgibbon and Tim O’Mahony
Jack O’Connor surges clear of Cork duo Darragh Fitzgibbon and Tim O’Mahony
Wexford’s Aidan Nolan wins the ball from Bill Cooper of Cork
Wexford’s Conor McDonald holds off Daniel Kearney of Cork

While Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald believes this was a game they could have won by twelve points, he will keep calm in the midst of the euphoria as they eventually fashioned out a four-point victory with a storming finish in this excellent Allianz Hurling League Division 1 clash at Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.

Having taken Waterford seven days earlier, Wexford's roll continues despite an opening 35 minutes that saw so many unforced errors leave them struggling for periods.

Cork tried to exploit the open spaces, stretching the defence with quick ball which led to a fifth-minute goal, and they could have added to this but for some heroic defending in the face of composed attacking play from the opposition.

With players like Liam Ryan, Shaun Murphy, Matthew O'Hanlon, Simon Donohoe and Pádraig Foley standing up to the visitors, it was apparent that there was still a victory charge left in this Wexford side.

Supporters may have had to wait until the closing ten minutes for that victory surge, but it was heartening to see how Wexford raised their game to a new level on the resumption, as they gradually came to terms with top flight hurling and the pace of the game.

But in keeping with the flow of the game, Wexford were finding it difficult to shake off the Cork challenge.

Once they restored parity through the heroic play of Kevin Foley, Aidan Nolan and Diarmuid O'Keeffe around midfield, coupled with the silken skills of Lee Chin and the huge workrate of Jack O'Connor and Paul Morris, they set themselves up for that victory surge.

Wexford had cut out the unforced errors and nobody could afford to take an eye off the game in that hectic closing ten minutes, played with championship fervour.

Wexford were doing the basics well, with the closing points including a brace from Jack Guiney, one from a free, along with superb strikes off the sideline from substitute Harry Kehoe and Diarmuid O'Keeffe, whose point was a fitting effort to close out the victory.

Wexford delivered a huge second 35 minutes with the only tarnish being twelve wides, from 14 in all, through that period, a spell in which visiting Cork struck seven.

Wexford were edgy through the opening half with many unforced mistakes, a period in which they looked shaky as Cork played the open spaces and stretched the home defence. It was also a period when the visitors failed to turn their possession into scores, though.

'I think the players have showed an incredible desire to take their game to the top level,' Fitzgerald said.

'Yes, we punished ourselves in the first-half with so many mistakes, but this was a totally different game to Waterford. Cork tried to expose us playing quick ball into the open spaces.

'That contributed to our first-half mistakes and it took us a while to get into the game. Unlike Waterford it was Cork who played the game at pace, so it was another huge step up.

'In the second-half the lads were incredible. There's a great spirit and a great intent about them and the way we finished out the game was heart-warming. We were everyone's favourites to be relegated but we have four points from two games.

'We simply over-ran and over-powered them in the closing ten minutes. Once we cut out the unforced errors, played the ball quickly into the forwards, we were much more competitive. Our defence was superb as was midfield, while the forwards' second-half was excellent.'

For Cork manager and Wexford native John Meyler, it was a real baptism returning to home soil in the opposition camp, but while disappointed with the result, he was satisfied with the display.

'We were competitive right through but in the first-half we had opportunities to take more scores which we failed to do. We knew coming down that this was going to be a huge test as they are a few weeks ahead of us in preparation.

'It was a huge physical test, but what's more we stood up to the test until the closing five minutes. Wexford with the crowd behind them simply overpowered us in the closing minutes, with their big players commanding down the centre.

'We have some players to come back, we've still a way to go, but we will get there. With that crowd behind them it was always going to be difficult. That was real championship stuff,' he added.

Wexford were forced into a late change when goalscoring hero of seven days earlier, David Dunne, was forced to cry off owing to the death of his grandfather, with Cathal Dunbar being drafted into the full-forward role, while St. Anne's clubman, Liam Rochford, was added to the substitutes' bench.

Before a crowd of 8,000, this game presented a real championship atmosphere with both sides showing a real desire to stamp their authority.

Cork in particular attacked at pace which opened up the home defence for Conor Lehane to crash home a goal, beating the advancing Mark Fanning after just three minutes, and this after Lee Chin had pointed the home side in front.

Cork were trying to be expansive with their game, with points from Robbie O'Flynn and Seamus Harnedy keeping them in front, leading by 1-5 to 0-5 after 20 minutes.

They stretched that lead even further one minute later through a Bill Cooper point, but two Chin points, one from a free, coupled with great run and finish, lifted the home crowd.

Patrick Horgan and a Chin free, after Aidan Nolan was fouled having been played into the danger zone by a delightful Jack O'Connor ball, saw the sides exchange points.

Paul Morris, Chin and an excellent Jack O'Connor point contributed further as the sides were continually exchanging points, with Cork edging into a 1-9 to 0-9 lead.

Wexford finished the half strongly, producing a Kevin Foley point to leave the visitors leading by 1-9 to 0-10 at the interval.

Conor Lehane and Aidan Nolan exchanged points on the resumption, but while Mark Fanning pointed a huge 90-metre free, he was off target with two follow-up efforts.

Still, great inter-play involving Wexford's Kevin Foley and Aidan Nolan saw the former strike over a long-range point to level the sides (0-14 to 1-11) after 44 minutes.

Chin followed with two wides, while Fanning was once again off target with a long free, but a Paul Morris 50th-minute point edged Wexford into a 0-15 to 1-11 lead.

Wexford introduced both Jack Guiney and Harry Kehoe to the attack. With Wexford leading by 0-16 to 1-11, Cork substitute Michael Cahalane pointed with his first touch, while with eight minutes remaining Conor Lehane pointed the sides level from a free (0-16 to 1-13).

One minute later Wexford came close to orchestrating their own downfall.

With the defence trying to pass their way out from close to goal, the ball eventually was played back to 'keeper Fanning, who lost possession.

Substitute Shane Kingston got on the ball, but luckily for the home side his rising shot went over the bar as Fanning scrambled back to goal, but it was enough to give the visitors a 1-14 to 0-16 lead.

Six minutes from the end a Jack Guiney point brought the sides back level, and Wexford now drove on in search of victory, as Aidan Nolan lofted over an excellent lead point with five minutes remaining.

Both Harry Kehoe and Fanning (free) were wide with attempts, before Jack Guiney assumed the mantle of free-taker to strike over an 80-metre effort.

Cork were by no means finished as they sought a goal, but Michael Cahalane was just wide with an attempt as the home defence closed in.

Wexford finished out the game in explosive fashion as the crowd willed them on, as Harry Kehoe pointed off the wing, before a superb Diarmuid O'Keeffe point off the sideline was a fitting conclusion to a tremendous game.

Wexford: Mark Fanning (0-1 free); Damien Reck, Liam Ryan, Shaun Murphy; Pádraig Foley, Matthew O'Hanlon, Simon Donohoe, Kevin Foley (0-2), Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1); Aidan Nolan (0-3), Lee Chin (0-6, 2 frees, 1 '65), Jack O'Connor (0-1); Paul Morris (0-3), Cathal Dunbar, Conor McDonald (0-1). Subs. - Willie Devereux for Reck, inj. (28), Jack Guiney (0-2, 0-1 free) for O'Connor (53), Harry Kehoe (0-1) for Dunbar (61).

Cork: Patrick Collins; Seán O'Donoghue, Eoin Cadogan, Conor O'Sullivan; Christopher Joyce, Tim O'Mahony, Mark Ellis; Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-1), Daniel Kearney; Robbie O'Flynn (0-1), Conor Lehane (1-2, 0-1 free), Bill Cooper (0-1); Alan Cadogan (0-2) Patrick Horgan (0-4, 3 frees), Seamus Harnedy (0-1). Subs. - Luke Meade for Harnedy (HT), Shane Kingston (0-1) for Cooper (47), Brian Lawton for Fitzgibbon (47), Damien Cahalane for Kearney, inj. (54), Michael Cahalane (0-1) for Horgan (59), Jack O'Connor for A. Cadogan (68).

Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).

Wexford People

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