Rebels far too hot as Wexford melt away
CORK 3-17 WEXFORD 2-7 EVEN the tastiest dishes tend to lose something in the re-heating.
Cork and Wexford whetted appetites to such a degree in the drawn game that it was most unlikely that they would provide a similarly nourishing feast in Saturday's Guinness All-Ireland hurling semi-final replay, but few could have anticipated that it would be as in insipid as it turned out to be.
If Wexford surprised everybody with their driven determination to survive six days earlier, they confused their public on Saturday, offering no more than a mere pretence when real substance was required against a Cork team whose accomplishment rating continues to increase.
It must have been very frustrating for Wexford manager John Conran as he paced the sideline trying to devise ways of preventing Cork from over-running his struggling troops who, after a productive start, drifted further and further into oblivion.
Cork won the final 54 minutes by 3-13 to 0-6 and, frankly, it could have been a lot more as Wexford's resistance dipped between minimal and non-existent. Yes, it really was that bad for Wexford as they found themselves confronting a Cork team whose touch and timing had improved immeasurably since the drawn game.
Wexford, in contrast, had regressed and the harder they tried, the more ineffective they became until eventually their fans in the 46,670 crowd were willing referee Aodan MacSuibhne to blow the final whistle.
Wexford's misery was typified by the decision to withdraw team captain Paul Codd 20 minutes from the end. By then, he had shot five wides in one of those horror days which every player experiences from time to time. Unfortunately for Codd, it came at the end of a week in which he had been in the news for speaking out against the GAA's regulations on sponsorship.
In fairness to Codd, he wasn't the only Wexford player whose challenge melted under the intense heat applied by Cork.
The attack were completely over-powered and while Mitch Jordan scored 1-2, to add to the 1-3 he hit in the drawn game, there was little else of a positive nature for Wexford's front men to boast about.
They failed to score a point from play for 37 minutes and, as the game progressed, they became increasingly frustrated against a miserly Cork defence whose error rate was minuscule by comparison with the drawn game.
Nobody epitomised it better than Diarmuid O'Sullivan. 'The Rock' returned to his natural environment in front of goal and proceeded to dominate it with imperious authority.
Wexford tried a variety of schemes to by-pass him, but none worked, mainly because even when Wexford attacked down the wings, they found corner-backs Wayne Sherlock and Pat Mulcahy a tight, resolute duo.
Centre-back Ronan Curran also gave a much-improved performance, as did Mickey O'Connell, whose industry and energy reduced midfield to a wasteland for Wexford.
It all added up to a hugely fertile afternoon for the Cork attack and they duly delivered, albeit against a struggling Wexford defence where only Darragh Ryan and Liam Dunne offered consistent resistance.
Had Cork supporters been told in advance that Joe Deane wouldn't register his first score for 40 minutes, they would have been extremely worried that it was going to be one of those terribly frustrating days. Not so. By then, Cork already had 2-10 on the board and were well on the way to their first All-Ireland final appearance since 1999.
They led by six points at that stage and while the margin itself wasn't overly intimidating, there was never a sense that Wexford could summon the survival skills they displayed six days earlier. Cork were playing within themselves, creating the impression that even if Wexford found another gear, it wouldn't have been enough to overtake Donal O'Grady's determined forces.
No, this was a day when Cork had an All-Ireland final appearance on their minds and there wasn't much Wexford could do to stop them.
Two early goals by Mitch Jordan and Larry Murphy were as fortunate as they were misleading. They gave Wexford a 2-1 to 0-4 lead after 16 minutes, but Cork were already settling into their rhythm by that stage.
Seven Corkmen, including captain Alan Browne, who goaled in the 17th minute, had scored by the 25th minute, and it really did look all over for Wexford when they trailed by 2-8 to 2-3 at half-time. They lost the second half by 1-9 to 0-4 and even that didn't totally reflect Cork's superiority.
Cork critics will continue to emphasise the negatives, not least how the side came so close to extinction in the drawn game, but there can be no disputing the reality that this is a might competent outfit when their game is in full flow.
They have scored 9-71 in four championship outings and while the defence have struggled on occasions, there are distinct signs that they are tightening up.
Besides, if the attack is averaging 2-19 per game, the defence can be fairly relaxed, although there was no evidence that they were in the mood to be subsidised by their enterprising forwards on Saturday.
The feel-good factor in the Cork camp is now far removed from the mutinous atmosphere which prevailed last December when they went on strike in pursuit of better conditions.
They got their way and they are now delivering in style as Clare, Waterford and Wexford can testify.
SCORERS - Cork: J Deane 1-5 (4f), T McCarthy 1-1, B O'Connor 0-4, A Browne 1-0, J Gardiner 0-3 (2 '65', 1f), M O'Connell 0-2, N McCarthy, Setanta Ó hAilpín 0-1 each. Wexford: M Jordan 1-2, L Murphy 1-0, P Codd 0-3 (3f), M Jacob, A Fenlon 0-1 each.
CORK - D Óg Cusack 7; W Sherlock 7, D O'Sullivan 9, P Mulcahy 7; T Kenny 7, R Curran 8, Sean Óg Ó hAilpín 8; J Gardiner 7, M O'Connell 8; B O'Connor 9, N McCarthy 7, T McCarthy 7; Setanta Ó hAilpín 7, J Deane 8, A Browne 7. Subs: J O'Connor 6 for N McCarthy (60), K Murphy for Setanta Ó hAilpín (69), M Prendergast for Sherlock (71), D Barrett for Gardiner (72).
WEXFORD - D Fitzhenry 8; D Guiney 5, D Ryan 8, D O'Connor 6; D Stamp 6, D Ruth 5, L Dunne 7; R McCarthy 5, L O'Gorman 5; A Fenlon 6, L Murphy 6, M Jacob 6; M Jordan 7, P Codd 4, R Jacob 6. Subs: T Mahon 7 for McCarthy (ht), B Lambert for O'Gorman (40), C McGrath for Codd (50), M Travers for Guiney (62).
REF - A MacSuibhne (Dublin)