McCarthy remains ice cool after Cork turn up heat on Wexford

Cork 2-20 Wexford3-17

But it was the perfect climax to a cracking Guinness All-Ireland SHC semi-final.

It produced a memorable contest, noteworthy for a mighty first-half performance from the underdogs which had them five points clear nearing the break and Cork's admirable recovery which had them ahead by the same margin in the 57th minute, after goals from Setanta Ó hAilpín and Joe Deane.

Still the most exciting phase had yet to be reached with Cork looking likely to hold on after some grandstand defending compensated for missed chances at the other end. In the last minute Diarmuid O'Sullivan made a vital catch at the edge of the square, Donal Óg Cusack stood his ground to get in a crucial tackle and Pat Mulcahy spoiled Larry Murphy as the Wexford man promised a goal.

Then, one minute into injury time, Alan Browne scored a Cork point which was to prove invaluable as within seconds McCarthy was at the end of a Wexford attack to put the ball in the net and deservedly earn them a draw.

It wasn't quite thrill-a-minute, but for such full-blooded endeavour and superb skill on the warmest day of the year for hurling, this was a game to savour.

From Wexford's perspective it was the day when a team which performed so poorly in the Leinster final realised their potential, as they hurled with a level of consistency which had been lacking up to now. While Cork might feel cheated out of victory because of spurning chances of extending their lead at the finish, their ability to storm back into contention after chasing the game for the bulk of the first half was a tribute to the character in the side.

The big question asked of Donal O'Grady's team related to their lack of match practice since the Munster final at the end of June and that was fairly well answered soon after the start.

Wexford were much sharper all over the field, gaining inspiration from a sixth-minute goal from Michael Jacob (from a perfectly placed clearance by Liam Dunne) and settling down to lead all the way to the break.

A number of factors accounted for their advantage, the most obvious being their dominance in defence. Liam Dunne was immaculate in a half-back line, which wasn't really breached until Niall McCarthy found his form after 25 minutes, while Darragh Ryan was commanding against Joe Deane.

While Doc O'Connor was often vulnerable in the left corner, in the face of Setanta Ó hAilpín's probing play, Cork never managed to get the early goal they needed to settle them.

Yet they had chances. As early as the third minute Ó hAilpín and Deane combined and captain Alan Browne failed to produce a proper shot off the ground. Shortly afterwards, Ben O'Connor got into a good position only to be crowded out before Doc O'Connor cleared off the line when Fitzhenry misjudged a high ball from Tom Kenny, though the keeper made a good save from Niall McCarthy.

That last foray came in the 26th minute, when a goal separated the sides. It was a lead Wexford's sparkling play fully justified, as they continually made headway in key areas, notably at half-forward, where newcomer Michael Jacob was to finish with 1-4.

Larry Murphy contributed a lot, in between swopping with Paul Codd, while Adrian Fenlon won some valuable ball and was to hit over two great scores from the sideline.

Considering how influential Cork's half-backs had been in the earlier games, this represented considerable progress for the Leinster side and concern for the Munster men.

Inside, Cork full-back Pat Mulcahy was caught out of position a few times, while Wayne Sherlock was troubled by Rory Jacob to a surprising degree. However, in the other corner, Diarmuid O'Sullivan was performing impressively. Further out, the midfielders were largely anonymous, with John Gardiner seeing most of the ball. Yet, the quality of possession Deane got was quite poor and generally suited the towering Darragh Ryan. At the break it was 1-11 to 0-10.

On the resumption Cork began their recovery. Pat Mulcahy was to turn in an impressive display in the left corner, after Diarmuid O'Sullivan went to full-back where he was to be dominant. Likewise, Wayne Sherlock was to make the type of impact expected of him. Ronan Curran, who had finished the first half more promisingly, was also to contribute hugely, while Tom Kenny was a little more involved. Mickey O'Connell was to pick up his game and Gardiner was more effective, though some of his finishing was poor.

Wexford, with Liam Dunne in the centre (continuing to defend well until he tired in the face of Niall

McCarthy's forceful play), still held control until three Cork points in a three-minute period.

Then, the game began to move in their direction after the outstanding Setanta Ó hAilpín scored with a kicked goal in the 47th minute made by a clearance from brother Sean, now playing brilliantly. Five minutes later a point from a more in-tune Deane had Cork level for the first time before Ben O'Connor (also improving) put them in the lead. Additionally, a big input from Timmy McCarthy further boosted the overall effort.

Deane, now in the left corner, hit a super goal in the 57th minute to open up a five-point lead, but within three minutes Michael Jacob gave Wexford hope with a goal which Murphy helped to create. With Paul Codd giving good leadership they stayed in touch, except Cork were creating more chances, with Niall McCarthy at his best. Crucially, they hit four wides in a five-minute period and, in the final analysis, it was what enabled Wexford to save the game.

Aodhan Mac Suibhne made some bad calls in the first half one in particular for a tackle on Niall McCarthy. In general, his refereeing was good, but most people will have judged him on his mistakes.

Scorers: Cork J. Deane 1-7 (0-4 frees); Setanta Ó hAilpín 1-3; J. Gardiner 0-4; A. Browne 0-2; N. McCarthy, B. O'Connor, T. McCarthy and M. O'Connell 0-1 each.

Wexford: P. Codd 1-5 (0-3 frees, 0-1 70); M. Jacob 1-4; R. McCarthy 1-0; A. Fenlon 0-3 (0-2 sideline); L. Murphy, M. Jordan 0-2 each; R. Jacob 0-1.

CORK: D. Óg Cusack; W. Sherlock, P. Mulcahy, D. O'Sullivan; T. Kenny, R. Curran, Sean Óg Ó hAilpín; M. O'Connell, J. Gardiner; B. O'Connor, N. McCarthy, T. McCarthy; Setanta Ó hAilpín, J. Deane, A. Browne (capt.). Subs: J. O'Connor for T. McCarthy (63rd minute); S. McGrath for

N. McCarthy (71st).

WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; D. Guiney, D. Ryan, D. O'Connor; D. Stamp, D. Ruth, L. Dunne; R.

McCarthy, L. O'Gorman; A. Fenlon, P. Codd (capt.), M. Jacob; M. Jordan, P. Codd, R. Jacob. Subs: T. Mahon for O'Gorman (55th minute); C. McGrath for Murphy (72nd).

Referee: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin).

*Attendance: 59,435.

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