Barry-Murphy: Cork have long way to go
No matter how hard this match tried to ignite, it just couldn't find the right spark.
In the end, it was like trying to light a fire with damp sticks. Combined with the cold evening air, it felt like a league match in March.
As the second match on a three-game billing, the game carried the tone and temper of a low-key undercard everywhere it turned. It produced 46 scores but the lack of intensity and aggression always made the match feel like a championship impostor.
For the third game in a row, Cork reached a threshold of 24 points but most of their scores were engineered or taken in a combat-free zone, which won't have sufficiently hothoused them for the anticipated heat of an All-Ireland quarter-final.
It may also seem overly pernickety to be critical of a forward line that is consistently hitting big scores but it took them an age to get going and the problems which hurt them against Tipp resurfaced, especially their attempts to get the ball into the hands of their strike forwards. After making just one play in the second half against Tipp, Pat Horgan only had the ball in his hand five times over a 70 minutes which was loaded with loose hurling and clean possession.
Although Paudie O'Sullivan had a very productive second half with nine plays, which yielded two points as well as him being fouled for three converted frees, he only made two plays in the first half.
With Cork too often taking the wrong options with poor stickpassing and shot selection, they were thankful that Luke O'Farrell was on fire when the game was still a contest.
From six first-half plays, he scored 2-1 and was fouled for a penalty which goalkeeper Anthony Nash buried in the 22nd minute.
Ahead by 3-7 to 1-11 at the break, Cork were always able to keep Wexford at arm's length. Those three goals were also a huge boost to a team which had only scored one in their two previous matches.
"I'm pleased overall," said Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy. "We know it's a work in progress and we know we have work to do to get up to the level of the top teams. But an All-Ireland quarter-final was our minimum target at the start of the year and it's job done as far as we're concerned.
"Scoring three goals was another start. Certainly, we hadn't been scoring many goals. People seem to get fixed on these things but we got the couple of chances and took them.
"The goals in the first half against the wind were a huge help. We just hadn't been getting them and we probably paid the penalty for that against Tipperary. That will give the lads more confidence as well."
Wexford played some decent hurling and mined some really intelligent scores. They were competitive for long periods but their hopes of getting a result gradually drifted away with their lack of belief and conviction. Inexperience and physicality was also a factor.
"Cork just probably had that bit more work done," said Diarmuid Lyng. "We've probably slipped back a bit in the last few years. It's a building process and Cork were probably that little bit stronger than us. They were also that bit more clever on the ball and they made right decisions at crucial times.
"We should have had two or three more scores when the game was in the melting pot, which might have made Cork doubt themselves. Those inconsistencies are what separate the good teams from everyone else."
Cork still know they have a lot to work on. Wexford got five points from cheap Cork turnovers, four of which originated from loose stickpassing under no pressure.
Lyng also had a decent goal chance which struck the side netting in the 53rd minute after Cork somehow contrived to concede the chance when they looked in total control.
A big area for Cork to address going forward is their defensive formation. Wexford were consistently able to create openings in the middle third and a team with more firepower would have gone to town in that space.
Eoin Cadogan could repeatedly be heard calling his midfielders to sit back and clog up space. Even when Wexford's second goal was scored by Garrett Sinnott, Nash lost the rag after Cadogan was too late in filling the hole in front of goal when a sideline cut was being taken.
Cork will still look to the positives. Although he was ineffective in the third quarter, Niall McCarthy made a big contribution from his first championship start of the summer. He was brilliant in the first half when making 12 plays.
Overall, as well as scoring four points, he set up two more. His energy and drive was a big plus. Cork will just need a lot more of that from everyone else in two weeks' time.
"You're not going to steamroll these teams," said Barry-Murphy. "We're not in a position to be overconfident against anybody. We have a long way to go but we're happy with where we are."
Scorers -- Cork: L O'Farrell 2-2, P Horgan 0-7 (5f), A Nash 1-1 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), N McCarthy 0-4, C Lehane, P O'Sullivan, J Coughlan (1f), P Cronin, 0-2 each, L McLoughlin, C Naughton 0-1 each. Wexford: D Lyng 1-3 (0-1f, 0-2 s/l), G Sinnott 1-2, J Guiney 0-5 (3f), R Jacob 0-3, H Kehoe 0-2, D Redmond, L Og McGovern 0-1 each.
Cork -- A Nash 8; S O'Neill 8, D Cahalane 7, B Murphy 8; T Kenny 7, E Cadogan 7, W Egan 7; L McLoughlin 7, P Cronin 8; C Lehane 7, C McCarthy 8, N McCarthy 9; P O'Sullivan 8, L O'Farrell 9, P Horgan 7. Subs: D Sweetnam 7 for L McLoughlin (49), C Naughton 6 for C Lehane (59), S Og O hAilpin 7 for W Egan (63), J Coughlan 7 for N McCarthy (66), S Moylan for C McCarthy (70).
Wexford -- E Martin 7; E Moore 7, M O'Hanlon 6, K Rossiter 7; D Stamp 6, R Kehoe 6, C Kenny 7; D Redmond 7, E Quigley 6; G Sinnott 7, H Kehoe 7, D Lyng 8; P Morris 6, R Jacob 8,J Guiney 8. Subs: L Og McGovern 7 for H Kehoe (42), S Murphy 6 for P Morris (61), S Banville for E Quigley (67).
Ref -- J Ryan (Tipperary).