Jacob produces lethal finish to kill off Saffrons'dogged challenge
Wexford 3-16 Antrim 1-11
Daragh Conchir Leinster SHC
At half-time, Antrim looked set to make a real bold bid for victory at Wexford Park, trailing by just two points despite having played into a very strong wind.
They never turned up after the resumption, though, and with the hosts upping their tempo, the game fizzled out after Rory Jacob profited from Kevin Molloy's stumble to arrow a low shot to the Antrim net in the 50th minute.
Victorious manager Colm Bonnar attributed the turnaround to the difference between playing between Divisions 1 and 2, although his counterpart Dinny Cahill didn't think that top-tier hurling would be beneficial to many of his young players at this stage in their development.
Instead, the elder of the two Tipperary natives argued that his players could have done more.
"I felt we did an awful lot of hurling in the first half," said Cahill. "Maybe we could have spun ourselves out, I don't know. These are all the questions that we have to ask ourselves. We did all the hurling and we had the elements behind us in the second half but the elements won't ever win you a game of hurling. You have to work as well and I felt our work-rate wasn't maybe good enough."
Certainly, they were excellent in the opening period, using the short puck-out to good effect and providing Darren Hamill with a wonderful supply. However, they fell into the trap of launching high balls from distance after the restart and Wexford's debutant full-back Matthew O'Hanlon was more comfortable with that tactic.
A seventh-minute goal from Conor McCann gave Antrim the lead but Wexford responded within a minute when Jim Berry did likewise from a 22-metre free. A brace of points from Jacob, including one beauty from tight on the right touchline, followed by a score from Eanna Martin pushed Wexford five clear.
Cahill's charges dominated the second quarter though, Neil McManus converting two frees, while Hamill and Karl Stewart were also on the mark. Hamill might have had two goals and although leading by 1-10 to 1-8, the sense of unease amongst local supporters was palpable. Nobody was worrying in the Wexford dressing room though.
"The players dug deep, they started working harder and started closing down the Antrim lads (who) were very sharp at the start winning a lot of breaking ball and putting us under pressure," explained Bonnar.
"At half-time, we knew the game was going to be decided after 73 minutes, not after 35. Even though Antrim had played very well, we felt there was a lot more in us. That's what Division 1 does. We'd pulled back deficits in Division 1 and that gave us confidence. We didn't panic."
Jacob and the impressive Stephen Banville raised white flags, while McManus spurned two difficult opportunities from frees. Jacob's goal put seven points between them, and a four-point flurry between the 54th and 59th minutes removed any doubt.
Redmond provided goal number three two minutes from the end, and Kilkenny's trip to Wexford Park on Saturday week was confirmed in style.
Scorers -- Wexford: R Jacob 1-5, D Redmond 1-2, S Banville 0-4, J Berry 1-1 (1-0f), L Prendergast, PJ Nolan, H Kehoe, E Martin 0-1 each. Antrim: N McManus 0-5(4f), K Stewart 0-3, C McCann 1-0, P Shiels 0-2, D Hamill 0-1
Wexford -- N Breen 7; C Kenny 7, M O'Hanlon 7, K Rossiter 9; L Prendergast 7, D Stamp 7, M Jacob 7; W Doran 7, D Redmond 8; PJ Nolan 6, H Kehoe 8, S Banville 8; R Jacob 9, E Martin 7, J Barry 8. Subs: N Kirwan 7 for Martin (54), C Farrell 6 for Doran (65), M Travers 6 for Stamp (68), B Doyle 6 for R Jacob (69).
Antrim -- S Hawes 7; C McGuinness 7, C Donnelly 6, K Molloy 5; A Graffin 7, M Herron 7, C Herron 6; P Shiels 7, B McFall 7; S McCrory 6, K Stewart 8, N McManus 6; C McCann 6, D Hamill 8, E McCloskey 6. Subs: M Armstrong 6 for C Herron (56), J Black 6 for McFall (60), T McCann 6 for McCloskey (65), M Donnelly 6 for McCrory (69).
Ref -- C McAllister (Cork).