A series of poor wides after the break kept Cork in the game, and the visitors might have nicked a draw or better, with subs Shane Kingston and Michael Cahalane both coming close to goals in the closing stages.
The two managers saw the benefit in the game. Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald acknowledged that his side had spurned a lot of chances: “I probably agree, but aren’t we better to have battles like that where we’re actually coming out on top? That’s what we want. And the atmosphere there, at the end, was incredible.
“I know some of our players didn’t play as well as they normally could, but to win a tight one like that is good for us.”
“It was nearly a championship match on the first of February,” said Cork boss John Meyler. “The intensity and the speed were incredible, the crowd were on their feet. Wexford just shaded it there, the last three weeks of playing Dublin, Kilkenny and Waterford mean they were that little bit sharper, they were a bit more composed at the end and got critical scores.
“At the end we got in, Shane Kingston got in and Michael Cahalane had a chance, we could have finished it that way, but I’m delighted with our workrate. It was savage, just a small bit of composure at the end.”
Cork attacked the scoreboard end in the first half and were impressive, backed by a slight breeze. Conor Lehane had a good goal after four minutes and all the Cork attackers were on the scoresheet by the 20th minute.
The visitors were snappy and sharp, while Wexford needed Lee Chin to carry the fight from play and frees. It was noticeable, however, that the home side were physically stronger than Cork and had the best of the close exchanges. Wexford weren’t motoring but they were able to stay in touch, a late Kevin Foley point for Wexford making the score 1-9 to 0-10 at the half.
Wexford hit three good points on the resumption through Aidan Nolan, Paul Morris and a Mark Fanning free, and though Cork stayed in touch early on, from the 40th minute on Wexford dominated. Foley’s equaliser raised the roof in Wexford Park but when Morris pushed them ahead, the score was preceded by four Wexford wides and followed by three more. before Foley put them two up.
Improbably, three quick Cork points gave them the lead with ten minutes left, 1-14 to 0-16, but Wexford wouldn’t be denied. Sub Jack Guiney hit two points and Nolan, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Harry Kehoe making it safe.
Afterwards, Davy Fitzgerald said they’d prepared well for Cork: “It was completely different (to Waterford), but I think the work we did on Cork didn’t do any harm. We had a fair idea what was coming. If you don’t know what’s coming you’re going to be in trouble.
“The goal was our fault. We know how we made the mistakes, and I don’t think there was a clearcut chance after that. But we recovered, got back to doing what we should have been doing, and that was to protect the pocket there, better than the first 10 minutes. We still have a lot to do, but happy enough.”
John Meyler took the positives as well: “We’ve a lot of young lads there but we showed a good work ethic. Once we get things right we’ll be competitive against Clare in a couple of weeks.
“We got the young lads in, Sean O’Donoghue struggled early on but got to grips with it, Robbie O’Flynn played well, we had chances with Shane (Kingston) and Robbie towards the end and needed more composure. We didn’t take them, and that was critical.”
L. Chin (0-6, 3 frees, 1 65); P. Morris, K. Foley, A. Nolan (0-3 each); J. Guiney (0-2, 1 free); C. McDonald, M. Fanning (free), D. O’Keeffe, H. Kehoe (0-1 each).
P. Horgan (0-4, 3 frees); C. Lehane (1-2, 1 free); A. Cadogan (0-2); S. Harnedy, R. O’Flynn, B. Cooper, D. Fitzgibbon, S. Kingston, M. Cahalane (0-1 each).
M. Fanning, D. Reck, L. Ryan, S. Murphy, P. Foley, M. O’Hanlon (jc), S. Donohue, K. Foley, D. O’Keeffe, A. Nolan, L. Chin (jc), J. O’Connor, P. Morris, D. Dunne, C. McDonald.
A. Maddock for Reck (inj, 27); J. Guiney for J. O’Connor (53); H. Kehoe for Dunbar (61).
P. Collins, S. O’Donoghue, E. Cadogan, C. O’Sullivan, C. Joyce, T. O’Mahony, M. Ellis, D. Fitzgibbon, D. Kearney, R. O’Flynn, C. Lehane, B. Cooper, A. Cadogan, P. Horgan, S. Harnedy.
L. Meade for Harnedy (HT); S. Kingston and B. Lawton for Fitzgibbon and Cooper (47); D. Cahalane for Kearney (54); M. Cahalane for Horgan (60); J. O’Connor for A. Cadogan (66).
J. Keenan (Wicklow).