Tuesday 22 August 2017

Rebels rise as Conor Lehane shines to put Wexford to the sword

Cork 2-22 Wexford 0-20

Conor Lehane, Cork, in action against Lee Chin, Wexford. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 1, Wexford v Cork. Innovate Wexford Park, Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Conor Lehane, Cork, in action against Lee Chin, Wexford. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 1, Wexford v Cork. Innovate Wexford Park, Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrick

Cork hurlers maintained their 59 year old championship winning record against Wexford to reach the last eight of the All-Ireland series last night.

This was a Rebel rout precipitated in part by Wexford's inexplicable decision to play against a very strong breeze despite winning the toss.

The folly of the decision was apparent after just five minutes as Cork raced into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead. Surely a team's whose confidence was brittle needed to take every advantage.

Conor Lehane tormented the Wexford defence; he scored their first goal, provided the assist from their second from Seamus Harnedy and had hit 1-4 from play by half time.

Conor Lehane, Cork, in action against Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Wexford. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 1, Wexford v Cork. Innovate Wexford Park, Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Conor Lehane, Cork, in action against Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Wexford. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 1, Wexford v Cork. Innovate Wexford Park, Wexford. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

By then Wexford had already used half their allocation of substitutes and they trailed by fourteen points.

Only time will tell whether this victory marks the start of a fresh chapter for a team that was in the last four of the All-Ireland series for the last two seasons or is merely a temporary reprieve.

But at least Jimmy Barry Murphy's side will be in the next qualifier draw tomorrow night together with Clare, Dublin and the winners of today's tie between Limerick and Westmeath.

By contrast the season is over for Wexford. Last summer they reached the All-Ireland quarter final. Despite capitulating there to Limerick it looked as if they they had made significant progress.

But last night's defeat coupled with their woeful display against Kilkenny in the Leinster series suggests that they base at base camp in their efforts to scale hurling's Everest.

The sides previously clashed in the quarter final of the League last March with Cork emerging four point winners in a goalless encounter at Pairc Ui Rinn.

Conor Lehane, Cork, celebrates after scoring the first goal
Conor Lehane, Cork, celebrates after scoring the first goal

But with a very strong wind blowing down into the Town end goal this was going to be a different kind of game. Wexford captain Matthew O'Hanlon won the toss but surprisingly opted to play against it.

There were the usual plethora of positional changes; Damien Cahalane switched to centre back with Mark Ellis on the edge of the square while Diarmuid O'Keeffe operated as a sweeper for Wexford.

But the wisdom of Wexford's decision to play against the breeze was called into question straight away as Cork made a blistering start. After five minutes the Rebels were already 1-3 to 0-1 ahead.

The goal came from the inform Conor Lehane who pounced on a monster puck out from  Anthony Nash. By the tenth minute Lehane had notched up 1-2 from play as  Wexford's nightmare start continued.

Corner back Eoin Moore who had started on Lehane was replaced by Andrew Kenny after just 16 minutes but Wexford started to make elementary handling errors as the confidence seeped from their play.

After four answered points from the visitors Ian Byrne hit Wexford's fourth free but it was a short reprieve as in the next play the on fire Lehane beat three defenders before linking up with Seamus Harnedy who found the net.

So by the end of the first quarter Cork led 2-10 to 0-4 leaving Wexford with a  massive challenge. The poverty of the Wexford effort was underlined that David Redmond's 26th minute point was their first from play.

They improved marginally in the latter stages of the first half but still trailed by 14 points at the break (12-17; 0-9) and appropriately it was the magnificent Lehane who hit the final score of the first half to bring his tally to 1-4 for the half. It scarcely mattered that Cork hit nine wides.

Wexford fielded a new midfielder pairing  in substitutes Daithi Waters and Harry Kehoe at the start of the second half and they did show significant improve outscoring the visitors 3-1 in the early exchanges.

Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Wexford, in action against Conor Lehane, Cork. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 1
Diarmuid O'Keeffe, Wexford, in action against Conor Lehane, Cork. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 1

They continued to outpoint the Rebels without ever looking like getting the goals they needed to make it a meaningful contest. Wexford were doing much better in defence with sweeper Diarmuid O'Keeffe excelling at the back.

With the attendance of over 11,000 finally finding their voice and the Cork defence conceding a succession of frees which Ian Byrne converted it was down to a six point game with ten minutes left. The unthinkable looked possible!

But a brace of Lehane points silenced the Wexford crowd and the side didn't help their cause by hitting three wides on the spin. The game petered out to its inevitable conclusion; Wexford won the second half (0-11; 0-5) but it wasn't sufficient to save their season.

Wexford: M Fanning; E Moore, M O'Hanlon, L Ryan; P Foley, L Chin, A Shore, D Redmond (0-3), A Nolan; P Morris (0-1), K Foley (0-1), I Byrne  (0-12, 10f); D O'Keeffe, C McDonald (0-1), L Og McGovern. Subs: A Kenny for  Moore 16m; D Waters for Nolan 29m;  H Kehoe (0-2) for Foley 31m; R Jacob for  McGovern 47m, G Sinnott for Foley 65m

Cork: A Nash; S McDonnell, M Ellis, B Murphy; A Walsh, D Cahalane (0-1) C Murphy; D Kearney, B Lawton (0-2); A Cadogan, P Cronin (0-1), B Cooper (0-2); P Horgan (0-9, 6f), S Harnedy (1-1), C Lehane (1-6). Subs: S Moylan for Harnedy 51m; Darren McCarthy for Cadogan  59m;  R O'Shea for Cronin 60m; P O'Sullivan for Kearney 63m

Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)

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