Saturday 24 March 2018

Red-hot Rebels leave Model boys cursing a lost summer

Cork 2-22 Wexford 0-20 All-Ireland SHC Qualifiers Rd 1

For Jimmy Barry-Murphy, this was a glimpse of the hurling purity he believes in.
For Jimmy Barry-Murphy, this was a glimpse of the hurling purity he believes in.
Soccer legend Paul McGrath watches from the stands
Henry Shefflin commentates on the game for RTE
Wexford’s Lee Chin steals a march on Cork’s Bill Cooper at Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday night
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Liam Dunne can tell the ache in his soul is settling in for a long tenancy, but there's not much point waiting for lightning to fork down and change things.

So he leans his back against the cold corridor wall, accepting the interrogatory tilt of the questions. In all but the most gentrified of hurling houses, managers sign up to a life that challenges optimism and right now, you can tell, his levels are on the ground.

He smiles a smile papering over a small multitude of frustrations.

Wexford's year has ended without it ever really beginning. Maybe they've just salvaged a sliver of self-respect by avoiding humiliation against Cork, but that's not what they left harbour for last winter.

"Look, we win together and we lose together," he sighed. "It's been four years there of a lot of hard work. I got huge commitment from the players to be fair. Where it goes from here, I don't know."

Does he want to continue?

"Look sure hurling is my life," he said. "Last year, I was given two years if I wanted it. I've another year left. Diarmuid Devereaux (county chairman) is the boss. If he wants Liam Dunne to stay 'til the end of 2016, I'll be more than willing to do that. Look JJ Doyle is doing really well with the U-21s, they're in another Leinster final next Wednesday night and hopefully those boys will pick it up as well.

"We'll have our best U-21 team next year. If they don't want me to stay on, I'll go out to grass like the rest..."

His voice tails off. It seems inconceivable that Wexford would countenance parting company with Dunne but he knows better than anyone that this has been a lost year. After the 24-points hammering by Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, they needed to rediscover the best of themselves on Saturday evening. And that simply did not happen.

Electing inexplicably to play into a strong wind, Wexford ran into arguably the best 35 minutes of hurling seen in the Championship this year. Physically and creatively, Cork were ratcheted close to perfection. By the time Dunne got his team into the safety of the dressing-room, they trailed by 14 points, had taken 26 minutes to get a score from play and were yet to register a first wide against opponents who had already leaked 11.

It was wipe-out.

Wexford's decision to withdraw an extra defender offered zero protection against a team hurling with pace, touch and intensity seemingly beyond their reach. Worse, it left Mark Ellis free to harvest at will a succession of high, random Wexford deliveries to an under-manned attack.

For Jimmy Barry-Murphy (below), this was a glimpse of the hurling purity he believes in.

"It was a brilliant first-half display," he agreed. "Some of our use of the ball and our score-taking was fantastic. Conor Lehane, Pat Horgan, some of their skill levels were brilliant. But our use of the ball in getting to them was equally good and that's what I'm most pleased about. I suppose the most important thing defensively is that we didn't concede goals and we didn't look like conceding them either.

"Look we know where we're going. The teams we're going to be meeting now, we'll have to be better than that. We know. We're not fools. We know where we're at, we know we've an awful lot of work to do."

Lehane, particularly, was the whetstone for most of their better moments, exposing a succession of markers to the hurling equivalent of chasing a breeze. His sixth-minute goal came direct lyfrom a great fetch on an Anthony Nash puck-out and a thought struck that Wexford's paltry shot-count against the wind was, at least, protecting them from Nash's howitzers.

The electric Lehane was central to Cork's second goal too, forcing a Wexford turnover after good work by Pa Cronin, then feeding inside to Seamus Harnedy who found the net at the second attempt after a wonderful initial save by Mark Fanning.

We were barely 20 minutes into the game by then, Cork leading 2-10 to 0-4.

Dunne worked frantically on the line to reshuffle his deck, introducing three first-half substitutes. But the gulf in hurling quality and intensity meant he might as well have been repositioning deck chairs on the Titanic.

For Wexford's hurling was again corrupted by fumbles and a general tentativeness against opponents in complete harmony with the sliotar.

At half-time, his message to the Wexford team was unambiguous. They needed to compete with their men rather than play courtier at their shoulders.

And Wexford, to be fair, did manage that on the resumption. In fact, the eight unanswered points they scored between the 43rd and 59th minutes even sowed a little seed of doubt in Cork that only subsided with the last two points of the game from the unplayable Lehane.

Had Wexford managed a goal with, say, ten minutes remaining and just six points between the teams, would Cork have held their nerve? "We never really looked like getting one to be fair," acknowledged Dunne.

It was an honest interjection. Nash's goal was never seriously threatened apart from a first-half save from Ian Byrne and Cork's intelligent use of possession meant that their two-man inside attacking line benefited from a far superior service to that of their Wexford counterparts.

Horgan, too, seemed to benefit from playing in a pocket between half-forward and full-forward, meaning he escaped the heavy scrutiny that seemed to marginalise him on successive days against Waterford.

For Cork, the summer might just open up now. The work-rate of the team suggested some straight talking peppered their training sessions since the Munster Championship defeat, albeit there can be little room for complacency in a team that went 21 minutes of the second-half without registering a score.

When Cork are good, they are irresistible. But when they're bad, they become a strange enigma.

As Lehane himself averred, "We feel we fell short of our own standards (against Waterford). You've been training all year and when it doesn't work out, it's like a slap in the face. Especially when you know you can do better.

"There's no need for anyone to tell you that. Tonight we just had to take out a bit of frustration and it worked."

SCORERS - Cork: C Lehane 1-6, P Horgan 0-9 (0-6 frees), S Harnedy 1-1, B Cooper and B Lawton 0-2 each, D Cahalane and P Cronin 0-1 each.

Wexford: I Byrne 0-12 (0-10 frees), D Redmond 0-3, H Kehoe 0-2, K Foley, P Morris and C McDonald 0-1 each.

CORK - A Nash 8, S McDonnell , B Murphy 8, A Walsh 7, M Ellis 8, C Murphy 7, D Cahalane 7, D Kearney 7, B Lawton 7, A Cadogan 6, P Cronin 6, B Cooper 7, C Lehane 9, S Harnedy 7, P Horgan 8. Subs: S Moylan 6 for Harnedy (51), D McCarthy 7 for Cadogan (58), R O'Shea 6 for Cronin (60), P O'Sullivan for Kearney (64).

WEXFORD - M Fanning 8, L Ryan 7, M O'Hanlon 7, E Moore 5, P Foley 5, L Chin 7, A Shore 6, D Redmond 8, A Nolan 5, D O'Keeffe 6, K Foley 6, I Byrne 8, P Morris 5, C McDonald 5, L Og McGovern 5. Subs: A Kenny 6 for Moore (18), D Waters 7 for Nolan (30), H Kehoe 7 for P Foley (32), R Jacob 6 for McGovern (47), G Sinnott for K Foley (65).

Ref - A Kelly (Galway)

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