After Saturday night’s game, with crowds milling around on the Wexford Park playing area, one Cork supporter described his side as Jekyll and Hyde.
Harsh? A little. Cork were devastating with the wind in the first half of this All-Ireland SHC qualifier, blitzing 2-10 in 20 minutes and taking a 13-point lead.
Some of their point-taking was superb — Conor Lehane ended the night with 1-6 and his final point of that half, making it 2-17 to 0-9, was one for the highlight reel, as he gathered a low ball, turned and arrowed from the sideline. He had Cork’s first goal, grabbing a monster puck-out from Anthony Nash and finishing clinically, while a succession of deft touches enabled him to set Seamus Harnedy up for Cork’s second.
At that point Wexford were overrun completely and manager Liam Dunne had already made three changes, but they were better in the second half. Driven on by midfielder David Redmond, they hit eight points in a row to cut the deficit to six, and Cork were grateful that Lehane was able to drill two points to smother the comeback.
That early flurry of Cork scores was critical, said Wexford manager Liam Dunne.
“We were put on the back foot. It was the last thing we needed, or that we wanted, after being beaten by 24 points the last day.
“We put back a sweeper and it didn’t work for us. One high ball came in and the break came to Conor Lehane and they got the first goal.
“They got those two goals in the first half and we needed those goals. We had a huge uphill battle at half-time and I just said to the lads that we needed to compete — we weren’t competing, and we needed to compete two weeks ago. It took a momentous effort to even get it back to six points, we needed a goal and we never really looked like getting a goal, to be fair.”
The closest Wexford came to a goal was a snapshot from Ian Byrne in the first half which Anthony Nash saved smartly, but drilling down into Dunne’s comments is fruitful.
Wexford withdrew wing-forward Diarmuid O’Keeffe to their own half but the move didn’t work because it freed Mark Ellis to screen the home side’s danger-man Conor McDonald, and the Cork centre-back was a dominant figure in the game, collecting plenty of Wexford clearances and ensuring the home side wouldn’t create space for goal chances in the Cork half.
The criticism against Cork in recent weeks has been an inability to get their strike forwards involved in the game, but they managed to do so on Saturday night as well as nullifying the opposition’s big scoring threat effectively thanks to Ellis’s positional sense.
Their manager said they were keen to have the big man from Millstreet in that role.
“We tried to work that (Ellis’s positioning),” said Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
“We knew we’d been conceding too many goals in the league final and in the championship against Waterford, it’s something we tried to work on, and the lads have worked very hard on that.
“I thought their attitude was first class and it’s one step back on the road at least. We’re not getting carried away. It’s a difficult place to come and win — everybody was telling us that and we knew it ourselves. We applied ourselves in the first half and got the job done in the first half.
“It’s a work in progress. I wouldn’t be getting carried away by tonight’s display.”
The free role given to Ellis wasn’t Cork’s only tactical move — Patrick Horgan, a peripheral figure in the games against Waterford, drifted outfield when Cork had the wind and was more involved in the play, while the two players he left in the full-forward line, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy, revelled in the space and tormented Wexford for 2-7 between them.
“Seamus hasn’t really trained since May 1st,” said Barry-Murphy. “We were thrilled with his first-half display and hopefully he’ll be better for the games and more training.
“We hope Shane (O’Neill) will be available the next day, but Lorcan (McLoughlin) won’t be.”
A touch more Jekyll and Cork will be a difficult prospect next weekend.
Cork’s second goal, from Séamus Harnedy, came in the first quarter but it deflated Wexford and left them with an uphill battle.
Conor Lehane hit 1-6 and was superb: Mark Ellis anchored the defence all through. Between the two of them.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s move of Conor Lehane to the corner and positioning of Ellis gave Cork a huge advantage with the wind.
Alan Kelly of Galway made some odd calls but generally handled the game well.
The half-time invasion by hundreds of kids - and the quick clearing of the field before the teams re-emerged from their dressing-rooms.
Cork find out who they’ll face this morning. Wexford go back to the drawing board.
P. Horgan (0-9, 6 frees), C. Lehane (1-6); S. Harnedy (1-1); B. Lawton, B. Cooper (0-2 each); D. Cahalane, P. Cronin (0-1 each).
S. Moylan for S. Harnedy (52), D. McCarthy for A. Cadogan (55), R. O’Shea for P. Cronin (56), P. O’Sullivan for D. Kearney (63), G. Sinnott for K. Foley (65).
I. Byrne (0-12, 10 frees); D. Redmond (0-3); H. Kehoe, (0-2); K. Foley, P. Morris, C. McDonald (0-1 each).
A. Kenny for E. Moore (17), D. Waters for A. Nolan (29), H. Kehoe for P. Foley (30), R. Jacob for McGovern (46).
A. Kelly (Galway).