Conor Counihan’s men were convincing victors over Wexford in an All-Ireland SFC qualifier round 3 clash that was ruined by the wretched weather.
It was a day of cascading showers and gusting winds in the south-east, which resulted in this clash bearing the look of a mundane March league encounter rather than a July championship game crackling with intensity.
The conditions seriously impaired on the efforts of both teams to engage in flowing passages of play, yet despite both teams having tackled adverse weather last weekend in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Pearse Stadium before churning out qualifier round 2 victories, it was Cork who adapted in a superior fashion here.
This tie had the capacity to trouble Cork, with Wexford in buoyant form after their Salthill heroics. But Cork’s greater nous proved integral in helping them claim honours, as they played smart football in controlling the exchanges and retaining possession both with and against the wind.
They produced blistering opening periods to both halves as they led 0-5 to 0-0 by the 17th minute and then scored the first four points of the second-half as well. Those bursts of power had the twin effect of draining the life out of Wexford’s challenge and quelling the roar of the Model supporters.
“We just showed a bit of a grip there in the second-half when it was needed and things were shaky,” manager Conor Counihan said afterwards.
“With the home crowd getting behind them here, it was important we dug in and the lads did that. It was never going to be a high-scoring game in those conditions, scores were hard to come by. Between the swirling wind and the rain, it made it very difficult. We took some poor decisions in the first-half and there’ll be plenty work to be done. But you’d have to be pleased overall.”
This match was far more beneficial to Cork than the staggeringly lopsided clash with Cavan. They had to dig deeper to deliver the right result and this battle will stand to them as they prepare to renew acquaintances with Limerick next week.
Defensively Cork were excellent, restricting the space available to Wexford’s livewire inside attackers Ciarán Lyng and Matty Forde. Jamie O’Sullivan stuck tenaciously to Lyng throughout, Michael Shields was similarly tight on Forde and limiting that pair to a single point from play went a long way towards securing the victory for Cork.
Outside them Redmond Barry was never allowed to pull the strings creatively by Paudie Kissane and on the opposite flank of the defence Graham Canty was an immense presence. Canty epitomised Cork’s shrewd use of possession throughout as they limited turnovers of the ball and used the open space of the wings rather than ploughing into traffic in the middle.
Cork’s injury woes are showing signs of abating. John Miskella survived 70 minutes of tougher combat and embellished his display with a trademark second-half point that arrived after a series of patient passes in defence. Aidan Walsh’s hamstrings held up importantly around the middle and he notched the score of the day with a serious thump from distance in the first-half.
And Nicholas Murphy had a huge impact at midfield when introduced in the second-half at a time when Cork’s challenge creaking. Cork found it difficult to make much headway in attack for long stages. The weather was a clear impediment in this regard and Wexford’s best performers on the day were in their backline, with both Graeme Molloy and David Murphy impressing.
Even with the wind at their backs Cork endured a 15-minute scoring drought in the first-half and their struggles were even more pronounced in the second-half as 30 minutes passed between Miskella striking Cork’s 11th point and Ciaran Sheehan popping over their 12th and final score of the day.
But Cork’s forwards did work exceptionally hard with Patrick Kelly in particular processing a huge amount of possession from wing-forward. In the scoring stakes Ciaran Sheehan grabbed two skilful points while both Kelly and Daniel Goulding located their A-game’s when it came to converting placed balls in the testing wind.
As they only trailed 0-7 to 0-3 at the interval, Wexford were entitled to face into the second-half in a state of confidence that could stage an upset. But they were left reeling as Cork produced a lightning scoring blitz after half-time to lead 0-11 to 0-3 by the 44th minute.
It was the type of thunderous opening that Wexford badly needed and the stark reality was their play was too sub-standard in the second-half. They failed to carve open the Cork defence to give their forwards the latitude to score and too much possession was coughed up from going into contact around the middle.
Cork were content to soak up the Wexford pressure as they had established enough of a buffer on the scoreboard. The outcome was inevitable from the midway point of the second-half with Cork able to start planning for next week and Wexford left to reflect on another qualifier exit.
WEXFORD: A Masterson; J Wadding, G Molloy, B Malone; A Flynn, D Murphy, A Doyle; E Bradley, D Waters; C Morris, R Barry, C Byrne; C Lyng, M Forde, S Roche.
Subs used: B Doyle for Byrne (25 mins), PJ Banville for Roche, P Naughter for Waters (both 54), D Carter for Molloy (68), B Brosnan for Lyng (70+2).
Wexford Scorers: A Flynn, E Bradley, C Lyng (0-1f), M Forde, B Brosnan 0-1 each
CORK: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, J O'Sullivan; G Canty, P Kissane, J Miskella; A O'Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, P O'Neill, P Kelly; D Goulding, C Sheehan, C O'Neill.
Subs used: P Kerrigan for Goold (35+1 mins), N Murphy for O’Connor (half-time), D Kavanagh for Murphy (59, blood sub), N O’Leary for Kissane, J Hayes for O’Neill (both 67), F Lynch for Kelly (70+2).
Cork Scorers: P Kelly 0-4 (0-3f), D Goulding 0-3 (0-2f), C Sheehan 0-2, G Canty, A Walsh, J Miskella 0-1 each.
Referee: Gearoid O Conamha (Galway).