Just a further step on the journey, says O’Grady

Cork 3-17 Wexford 2-7

It certainly is for everybody involved with the team, when viewed against the background of last year's humiliating exit from the qualifier competition and the subsequent player revolt.

The irony is that the victory in Saturday afternoon's replay in Croke Park which earned them their place was so simply executed. The Munster champions improved significantly from the first game, while Wexford failed to live up to their early promise and their challenge duly collapsed.

Typically, when asked what it meant to take his team to the final, O'Grady responded in matter-of-fact fashion.

"We have moved a further step. The next one coming up will be the last one.

"Whether we are good enough to win is another day's work. As I said at the start of the year, we set out to make progress from game to game."

Of more significance was a throw-away remark by team captain Alan Browne, in praise of the 'professional' approach of the management when he said: "it just proves if you look after the players you can get this kind of response!"

Not unexpectedly, the game fell well below the standard of last week's tie, principally because Cork had moved into a position of control by the break and Wexford never looked capable of coming back. The key feature was the dominance of the Cork backs, personified by the magnificence of Diarmuid O'Sullivan mainly, and Ronan Curran. Midfield was much more productive and combined to inspire an attack in which Ben O'Connor was superb on this occasion and Setanta Ó hAilpín again added to his growing reputation.

O'Grady admitted to surprise that his team hadn't been put to the pin of their collar, attributing their win to the fact that they kept the pressure on Wexford all through. Opposing manager John Conran felt that it was Cork's day and that his team found it hard to cope. "We played much better the last day, but, having said that Cork played their best hurling this time," he admitted.

Privately, Wexford were unhappy that fouls committed in the build-up to the opening two Cork goals had gone unnoticed by the referee.

But, after losing eventually by 13 points, they were not interested in making an issue of it. However, they were costly goals to concede, for the reason that Wexford were very competitive for much of the opening half-hour.

Slower to settle, they were given a huge boost by a flukey Mitch Jordan goal, after a clearance from Curran took a wicked deflection. That was in the 6th minute and Larry Murphy had the ball in the net ten minutes later. He hit a powerful shot off the ground which Donal Óg Cusack partially blocked, before it crossed the line.

Cork responded with a goal of their own, from a more involved Alan Browne, which levelled scores for the third and last time. The opening came from Ben O'Connor, after Setanta Ó hAilpín fouled the ball initially.

Even before Timmy McCarthy got a second goal in the 26th minute after Niall McCarthy clearly dropped his hurley in the act of hand-passing to him there were obvious signs of a Cork take-over. It was to be seen, for instance, in the way Diarmuid O'Sullivan (moving to full-back after only nine minutes) commanded the heart of the defence and John Gardiner was winning a lot of ball at midfield. In time, Michael O'Connell was to offer strong support (and perform consistently) and players like Tom Kenny and Ben O'Connor, who had been subdued in the drawn game, were each making an impact.

At the other end, Darragh Ryan was totally in control against Joe Deane (who failed to score in the half), but Doc O'Connor again struggled against Setanta Ó hAilpín, who continued to cause problems even for Dave Guiney who was switched over on him nearing half-time. It was noteworthy, too, that Liam Dunne never got into the game and that Declan Ruth was unable able to assert his authority against the influential Niall McCarthy.

Combined with an obvious weakness at midfield, which was to see Rory McCarthy withdrawn during the break and Larry O'Gorman replaced six minutes after the resumption, it meant that Wexford's challenge started to fail gradually. Up front, Rory Jacob was being well beaten by a very much in-form Wayne Sherlock, Michael Jacob achieved very little (apart from being denied a goal by Cusack's alertness in the 21st minute), while team captain Paul Codd's contribution was minimal. Adrian Fenlon and Larry Murphy were the only ones , to win a reasonable amount of ball, but even the former's options were limited by Sean Óg Ó hAilpin's clever play.

Considering that Cork hit some bad wides, a half-time lead of five points, (2-8 to 2-3) didn't flatter them. Two minute after the resumption, Jordan got Wexford's first point from play and they were to manage just two more in a nine-minute period before their last score came in the closing minutes. Tomas Mahon brought in for what may very well prove to be the last Croke Park outing for that great warrior Larry O'Gorman won a fair share of ball at midfield, but the comparative weakness of their attack meant that it hardly counted. Diarmuid O'Sullivan was absolutely superb and Curran was totally dominant, while Sean Óg Ó hAilpín outplayed Paul Codd after he was moved out to the wing.

Codd had nothing to offer by way of scores or real leadership, clearly his public outburst over the endorsement issue had distracted him and he was taken off with 20 minutes to go.

Deane's persistent play saw him win good ball off a tiring Ryan and even before he got Cork's third goal in the 59th minute, the writing was on the wall for Wexford.

*Referee Aodan MacSuibhne's major error in relation to the awarding of the second Cork goal did take away from a very good display.

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