Gaelic GamesMatch report

Wexford given a stern reality check by free-scoring and dominant Cork

Alan Connolly laid down a marker for the season ahead by registering his second consecutive hat-trick

National Hurling League Division 1A: Wexford 1-15 Cork 3-21

At this time of the year big defeats generate more pause for thought than big wins. For the second week in a row Cork put their opponents to the sword with a performance that left plenty of room for improvement and five weeks of uninterrupted training to chase it. For Wexford, though, this will have made them stop and think again.

A league campaign that had been heartening until now came apart at the seams on the last day. Their outside chance of reaching the semi-finals hinged on the simple arithmetic of bettering Kilkenny’s result in Walsh Park by at least two points. But that prospect was thrashed within minutes of the throw-in and vanished long before half-time.

After their scarring brush with relegation in last year’s championship Wexford cannot afford any contagion from this defeat. They spent most of the league getting by without many of their pillar players but they didn’t need Cork to tell them that they couldn’t carry on much longer without them.

Lee Chin, Liam Ryan, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Conor Devitt and Rory O’Connor have been injured and unavailable; Conor McDonald, Liam Óg McGovern and Mikie Dwyer came off the bench in the second half on Saturday. Regardless how well Wexford’s understudies performed for most of the league, their championship 15 will need to be energised by familiar names.


“I wasn’t paying much attention to being unbeaten [in the league],” said Keith Rossiter, the Wexford manager. “I wasn’t going around saying it. It was great to have it up until now and it got us safe in the league, which was the main thing. To a certain extent it’s probably no harm that it’s gone, to be honest.

“I think Cork had a bit more to fight for today than us. I just wasn’t happy with the way we were. We didn’t come to the table at all. We couldn’t get a handle on them, we couldn’t get near them.”

Cork’s priorities from this year’s league might not have included reaching the playoffs, although Pat Ryan insisted afterwards that they would have welcomed another game next week. Their focus was building greater panel depth and that mission has been accomplished. Cork used more than 30 players during the league and, at a guess, there are at least five starting positions up for grabs still. Greater fitness was the other big item on Cork’s to-do list and Ryan is satisfied they have reached that target too.

“From our side of it we feel we’re in way better physical shape than we were last year,” said Ryan. “We’ve got through [the league] really well from an injury point of view. There is plenty of competition for places. I don’t think the 15 that started against Wexford will be the 15 against Waterford [for the opening round of the championship].”

One player who must have nailed down a starting spot is Alan Connolly. The rangy Blackrock full forward missed last summer through injury, and only made his comeback in recent weeks. But he scored a hat-trick against Offaly in Tullamore last week and followed it with another hat-trick on Saturday. If he had been clinical he could have had five goals.

His first came after just 69 seconds when Patrick Horgan flashed a ball across the square and Connolly met it with a diving lunge. Horgan was involved in the second goal too, nine minutes before half-time, deflecting a long ball into his path before Connolly fired a low, skidding shot past Mark Fanning.

Early in the second half he had a shot cleared off the line, after a brilliant piece of improvisation in a crowded goalmouth, and not long afterwards he tried to beat the Wexford goalie with a forehand lob; Fanning, though, was alive to the knack. The third goal finally arrived with a stoppage-time penalty.

The game had expired as a contest long before that. Cork led by 1-3 to 0-0 after just five minutes and by 14 points at the break, 2-13 to 0-5. On another miserable day in the GAA’s seemingly endless winter, Wexford played against a meddling crosswind in the first half, but that didn’t account for all of their careless shooting and, in the circumstances, they couldn’t afford seven first-half wides.

Wexford didn’t play with an extra defender, and Cork were so dominant in the middle third that the Wexford full-back line was bombarded. Cork might have had four other goals in the second half, but the intensity seeped out of their play too as the game flatlined.

WEXFORD: M Fanning (0-3, 0-3f); S Donohoe, C Foley (0-1), E Ryan; D Carley (0-2), D Reck, M O’Hanlon; C Hearne, S Reck; C McGuckin, J O’Connor, C Dunbar; K Foley, S Casey (1-9, 0-7f), C Byrne.

Subs: M Dwyer for Dunbar and L Óg McGovern for McGuckin (both h-t); C McDonald for Byrne (49 mins); T Kinsella for O’Connor (55); N Murphy for Carley (69).

CORK: P Collins (0-1); E Downey, D Cahalane, S O’Donoghue; G Mellerick, C Joyce (0-1), R Downey (0-1); T O’Connell (0-1), D Fitzgibbon; D Dalton, S Harnedy (0-1), B Hayes (0-2); P Horgan (0-8, 0-7f), A Connolly (3-2, 1-0 pen), S Barrett (0-1).

Subs: L Meade (0-1) for Fitzgibbon and B Roche for Harnedy (both 49 mins); C Lehane (0-1) for Dalton (55); S Kingston (0-1, free) for Horgan (59); T O’Mahony for R Downey (65).

Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway).

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times