Six unanswered Wexford points in an 11-minute second-half period left them trailing by just the minimum, 2-14 to 1-16, and carrying all of the momentum. The straightforward victory needed to claim top spot was suddenly far from an inevitability for Cork, but it was fitting their two star attackers engineered the score that stemmed Wexford’s flow.
Séamus Harnedy, who scored five points from play and illustrated just how integral a figure he has become, ran powerfully at the Wexford defence, with a 65 resulting after Matthew O’Hanlon’s good block.
With Patrick Horgan in his usual deadly accurate form, the conversion of that was straightforward and he added two more points in quick succession while lively sub Alan Cadogan, Cork’s find of the league, contributed a brace too.
From there, Wexford would not find a second wind and Cork were able to see out the game, setting up a quarter-final with Tipperary next week and ensuring they would be back in the top flight. The mixing of good with not so good was something that manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy acknowledged.
“I thought some of our hurling was very good, some great scores got,” he said, “and we upped the pace at the end, just as we did against Offaly, we showed we can play some very good hurling.
“Some of our option-taking was poor today at times and played into Wexford’s hands, but to win by seven points when they got back to a point at one stage... it was a bit scary at times, but credit to the players for that.
“We’ve a lot to learn from our general play and we’ve work to do to get back to the level we were at last year.”
There were at least signs of a return to this level. Horgan finished with 1-10, bringing his league total to 2-43, and Harnedy has got back to match sharpness with an impressive speed.
Daniel Kearney’s relentless energy at midfield ensured a good supply of ball but there was a general sloppiness from Cork and the full-back position still retains a question-mark.
Wexford’s goal, in the eighth minute, was achieved with too much ease. Taking Shane Tomkins’ pass, Jack Guiney was able to turn Stephen McDonnell and finish past Anthony Nash from close range.
That made it 1-2 to 0-2 but Cork had cut the deficit to 1-4 to 0-5 before seizing the lead with a pair of goals within a minute of each other. In the 17th minute, Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning was penalised for overcarrying and Horgan sent the resultant 20m free to the net. Then, Nash’s huge free from deep was allowed to drop by Wexford and with Fanning unable to claim the ball, Conor Lehane was able to bundle the ball over the line.
Cork had pushed five points clear, 2-10 to 1-8, at half-time and outscored their opponents by three to one in the first five minutes of the second-half, suggesting that they would ease to victory. Instead, Wexford rose up, inspired by the impetus provided by Diarmuid O’Keeffe, who would end the game with three points. He and Paul Morris – a late replacement for Ian Byrne – were central as they penned Cork back, neck lacing half a dozen points together to leave their opponents on the ropes.
Cork just about repelled the onslaught though and once they got back on track they pushed on again. Wexford lost corner-back Bobby Kenny to a red card late on after he made contact with Cadogan’s helmet, but by that stage the outcome had long since been decided.
Back to the top section for Cork, but more pressing matters await.
Scorers for Cork: P Horgan (1-10, 6fs, 2 65s), S Harnedy (0-5), C Lehane (1-3), A Cadogan (0-3), S Moylan, B Hartnett, P Haughney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Wexford: P Morris (0-10, 7fs), J Guiney (1-1), D O’Keeffe (0-3), L Óg McGovern, P Doran (0-2 each), H Kehoe, L Chin (0-1 each).
Subs for Cork: P Haughney for Lawton (49), A Cadogan for Hartnett, D Cahalane for White (both 54), R O’Shea for Kearney (69).
WEXFORD: M Fanning; K Rossiter, M O’Hanlon, B Kenny; L Ryan, L Chin, W Devereux; D O’Keeffe, H Kehoe; S Tomkins, C McDonald, P Morris; L Óg McGovern, J Guiney, R Jacob. Subs for Wexford: P Doran for Tomkins, PJ Nolan for McGovern, E Moore for Ryan (all ht), É Martin for Devereux, C Devitt for Kehoe (66).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).