A CORPSE climbed off a slab in Wexford Park yesterday to highlight how the more we see in this league, maybe the less we understand.
It might amount to but a brief discharge from Purgatory for Wexford hurlers, but, in the week one of their favourite sons warned of a possible future pursuing the Christy Ring Cup, this defeat of Ringy’s beloved blood and bandages had the small crowd whooping wild approval.
“Paper-talk,” was how Colm Bonnar dismissed Liam Dunne’s worried prophesy, while yet acknowledging that Wexford had “a huge mountain to climb” if they are to retain Division 1 status.
But they still, at least, have the gift of rescue in their hands and, for Bonnar, that was sufficient harvest. Trailing 0-7 to 1-9 at the interval, they goaled early in the second-half and – thereafter – out-gunned Cork, essentially, by force of will.
“There’s been a lot of post-mortems for Wexford hurling over the last week or two” said the Cashel man. “But we knew we’d made steady, steady improvement in this league, even if nobody was giving us any credit for it. I just feel people are very quick to jump on a bandwagon.”
They must now play Tipperary in next weekend’s final round of matches and, for all the kudos coming their way last night, defeat to the All- Ireland champions will flush them back down to what Bonner calls “the sheltered life” of Division 2 hurling. A life they know to be ruinous.
That said, Wexford hurling may not quite be in need of a wire brush and carbolic soap just yet. For the spirit of men like Paul Roche, Keith Rossiter and Darren Stamp against occasionally nonchalant opposition spoke of a warrior mentality that Cork manager Denis Walsh could only lament had been missing in his troops.
The visitors’ attack, particularly, misfired and only Ben O’Connor and Paudie O’Sullivan escaped their manager’s censure afterwards for what amounted to an exercise in surrender. Michael Cussen had a goal chance in the opening seconds, but blazed the wrong side of the crossbar and, though Cork led 0-5 to 0-1 after nine minutes, they were never able to put sufficient daylight into the arithmetic to subdue the possibility of uprising.
Roche, particularly, would prove magnificent, endlessly mopping up ‘dirty’ ball and contributing a succession of points from frees deep in his own half. If the spirit of Vinegar Hill is alive today, the Oulart man is its most obvious expression.
That said, Cathal Naughton’s welltaken 28th-minute goal seemed to have edged Cork into a comfortable position by half-time, albeit the bulk of their scores were coming from Ben O’Connor’s dead-ball accuracy.
In the dressing-room, Walsh warned against complacency. But the taps were already running. “We knew if we left them in it, there was only going to be one winner” he said afterwards. “We’d been in cruise control, but we still had to drive on. And we didn’t do that. When it came to a fight, we lost our shape.
“I’m disappointed with myself more than anything else to be honest. Did we make too many changes? I don’t think so. Like, four of our starting forwards you’d expect to be playing Championship hurling. I found out a bit more about certain fellas today and it mightn’t be all positive.”
Within seven minutes of the resumption, Wexford – incredibly – were leading. Having huffed and puffed through the first-half with a crowded midfield and two-man full-forward line – endless home deliveries dropping into the grateful hand of Cork full-back, Eoin Dillon – they reverted to orthodoxy and reaped an immediate dividend.
Stephen Banville moved to the edge of the ‘square’ and, having been in Ronan Curran’s pocket on the halfline, now suddenly came alive.
He’d already tested Anthony Nash with a snap-shot from 20 yards when the Cork goalkeeper failed to deal with an incoming missile in the 40th minute and, at maybe the third attempt, Banville forced the sliotar home. Roche followed up with a free from 90 metres and, when Dillon fouled Banville, Jim Berry edged Wexford in front for the first time.
From there to the end, it became less a hurling game than an exploration of manhood and a few Cork players didn’t impress with their response.
Wexford, by contrast, were finding attacking inspiration in men like David Redmond, the excellent PJ Nolan and – on his introduction – Nicky Kirwan.
They eased three points clear with as many minutes remaining, only for two O’Connor frees to narrow it to the minimum. And so it ended in a frenzy of shrieks and whistles, poor, put-upon Wexford somehow holding on.
“We needed the win, because the longer we went without one, the more pressure was coming on” admitted Bonnar. “But anyone who has seen us in our last four games would know that we’ve been averaging 19 or 20 points. We knew we were well capable of this.
“That said, Tipp beat Galway easily today, so they’ll be playing us now to get to a league final. It’s going to be a hell of a place to go in and try to look for two points.”
Still, wreaths might be a bit premature.
Man of the Match: Paul Roche (Wexford)
SCORERS – Wexford: P Roche 0-4 (3f, 1 ‘65’), J Berry 0-4f, PJ Nolan 0-3, S Banville 1-0, D Redmond 0-2, N Kirwan 0-2 (1f), R Jacob 0-1. Cork: B O’Connor 0-9 (8f), C Naughton 1-0, B Murphy, T Kenny, B Cooper, P O’Sullivan, M Cussen, P Horgan 0-1 each.
WEXFORD: N Breen 7; P Roche 9, M O’Hanlon 8, K Rossiter 8; L Prendergast 7, D Stamp 8, C Kenny 7; D Redmond 7, E Quigley 6; PJ Nolan 8, W Doran 6, S Banville 6; R Jacob 7, H Kehoe 6, J Berry 6.
Subs: B Doyle 7 for Doran (h-t), N Kirwan 7 for Berry (58), T Waters for Banville (63), C Farrell for Quigley (70), M Jacob for Kehoe (71).
CORK: A Nash 7; S O’Neill 7, E Dillon 7, C O’Sullivan 7; R Curran 9, M Ellis 7, J Nagle 8; B Murphy 7, T Kenny 7; B O’Connor 8, B Cooper 6, C Naughton 6; P O’Sullivan 7, M Cussen 6, P Horgan 6.
Subs: C McCarthy 7 for Horgan (50), P Cronin 7 for C O’Sullivan (55), K Murphy for Cussen (61).
REF – A Kelly (Galway)