Fire in the Yellow Bellies reels in Cork

A TALE of two halves in Wexford Park yesterday — the best of times for Wexford and the worst for Cork, as the Slaneysiders overturned an eight-point deficit to storm to victory.

“There have been a lot of post mortems on Wexford hurling in the last week or 10 days,” said Wexford manager Colm Bonnar afterwards.

“But I felt we’d made steady improvement. In the last 10 years, it’s probably a long time since a Wexford team scored an average of 19, 20 points as we’ve done but nobody gave us credit for those improvements.

“I was confident we could score 1-16, 1-17, before the game, though obviously Cork getting only one goal kept us in it.”

Bonnar was right.

Though Cork bossed proceedings from the start, they didn’t punish Wexford when the home side were under severe pressure early on. Cork full-forward Michael Cussen’s first-minute shot might have yielded a goal, for instance, but his shot went just over the bar.

Wexford’s deployment of full-forward Harry Kehoe to strengthen their midfield didn’t help; it meant ball after ball went to Cork’s free man, full-back Eoin Dillon, and the home side were under constant pressure, 0-5 to 0-1 down after 10 minutes.

On 16 minutes, Wexford’s Jim Berry hit the post from a free and Rory Jacob engineered a shot from the rebound that Cork keeper Anthony Nash turned away with the help of the crossbar: that was as good as it got for Wexford in the first half. Ten minutes later the Leesiders, already four points up, had a good goal from Cathal Naughton after Brian Murphy and Tom Kenny combined well: 1-8 to 0-4, and Ben O’Connor added a point seconds later.

Berry gave the scoreboard a more respectable look by half-time with three late frees, making it 1-9 to 0-7 at the half.

“We knew we could get back into it,” said Bonnar.

“We felt we were in the game, there was a strong breeze and we felt we could turn it around.”

They did. Within five minutes of the resumption a re-energised Wexford were ahead. Points from PJ Nolan Paul Roche (a 65 and a free from his own half) and Berry were augmented by a soft goal — Nash fumbled a high ball and PJ Banville swept it home.

Wexford smelt a victory while Cork, disappointingly for manager Denis Walsh, failed to respond.

“The game was there for us, we were in cruise control,” said Walsh.

“We weren’t clinical enough up front. We talked about that at half-time, about not leaving them back into it, because if that happened only one team would win it.”

While Cork struggled to win possession up front, Roche and Daniel Redmond helped drive the home side on and another long-range free from Roche had Wexford three ahead approaching injury time.

Ben O’Connor — described as a “colossus” by his manager after the game — cut the gap to one point with two frees, but Wexford hung on.

“I’m disappointed with myself more than anything else,” said Cork boss Denis Walsh at the final whistle.

“Rather than blaming the players I’d look at whether we made too many changes, I didn’t think we did.

“The very first shot (Cussen’s) should have been under rather than over the bar, but we lost our shape. When it came to a fight we had lost our shape and they kept theirs.”

His opposite number was realistic about Wexford’s chances of staying in Division 1 with a win over the All-Ireland champions in their last game.

“Obviously with Tipp’s win over Galway, they’ll be playing for a place in the league final,” said Bonnar.

“It’ll be a hell of a place to go looking for a point, Offaly are the same, but we feel the league has done a lot for the lads, it’s great preparation. It’s great to finish our games in Wexford Park with a win, anyway.”

Denis Walsh, meanwhile, said he’d be focusing on his side’s league finale.

“I’ve found out a bit more about some fellas and it mightn’t be all positive,” said Walsh.

“We’re out of the league, realistically, but we’ll be targeting the Dublin game.”

Scorers for Wexford: P Roche (3fs, 1 65), J Berry (4fs) 0-4 each, PJ Banville 1-0, PJ Nolan 0-3, N Kirwan (1f), D Redmond 0-2 each, R Jacob 0-1.

Scorers for Cork: B O’Connor 0-9 (8f), C Naughton 1-0, T Kenny, B Murphy, B Cooper, P O’Sullivan, M Cussen, P Horgan 0-1 each.

Subs for Wexford: G Sinnott for W. Doran (blood 29-35), B Doyle for Doran (ht); N Kirwan for J Berry (58), T Mahon for Banville (63), C Farrell for E Quigley (70), M Jacob for L Prendergast (70).

Subs for Cork: C McCarthy for Horgan (51), P Cronin for C O’Sullivan (53), K Murphy for Cussen (63).

Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).

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