Wexford 1-22 Cork 1-17
Rory O’Connor stated his case to be one of the best forwards in the country at the moment as he tore asunder the Cork defence to inspire his side to a deserved five-point victory in their Alliance Division 1A game at Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday afternoon.
O’Connor has one of the best scoring statistics in the league and he finished the game with a personal tally of 1-11, with 1-6 from play. It was his goal as early as the fourth minute that rocked Cork, setting the home side up with a six-point lead, one they were never to relinquish for the entire game.
Cork were in experimental mode with manager Kieran Kingston deciding to rest seven of his first-team players, with the experienced Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Pat Horgan not even included in the substitutes.
This was particularly evident through the opening 35 minutes as their game lacked composure. It was only in the second half that they managed to produce any real quality to their play, but they were always playing catch-up after a desperate opening period.
While it’s only four weeks out from the championship neither side seemed too intent on showing their hand, Cork in particular, as they had already qualified for the semi-finals. But Kingston will have learned much about his back-up choices, while for Wexford’s Darragh Egan he had practically his championship team on view.
Wexford showed a steely focus from the opening minutes as they set about the Cork challenge, hitting 1-3 inside the opening four minutes.
Three quickfire points from Paudie Foley, an O'Connor free and Oisín Foley, set the home side up, while in the fourth minute O'Connor shook off several defenders before beating goalkeeper Ger Collins with a kicked effort to the net.
Cork responded with two Shane Kingston frees, but there was certainly a lack of cohesion through the Cork play as they struggled to match a more eager and determined Wexford, with O’Connor sending over splendid points both from play and frees to help set up a lead of 1-7 to 0-3 after 15 minutes.
After O'Connor and Luke Meade exchanged points, Wexford struck further points from Conor McDonald and Oisín Foley to lead 1-10 to 0-4 after 18 minutes.
Wexford's defence was outstanding as they repulsed Cork's attacks, restricting them to long-range points from Conor Lehane and Robert Downey, while Kingston tagged on a further point to reduce the deficit. But it was Rory O'Connor with a superb pointed free off the sideline that left Wexford with a 1-13 to 0-8 interval lead.
Cork were flat and uninspired through that opening half, and when Jack O'Connor extended his side's lead within three minutes of the restart with a long-range point, they looked in serious trouble.
But they managed to up their game as they changed the pattern of their approach play with Alan Connolly pointing, while Lehane chipped in with four points, three from frees, along with a point from sub Mark Keane in between, to reduce the deficit to 1-14 to 0-14, after 55 minutes.
Wexford responded to the challenge as Rory and Jack O’Connor struck for points, along with McDonald, while a dazzling Rory O’Connor run from his own defence through the Cork centre resulted in his rising shot just going over the bar, when a goal would have been the score of the league.
Cork kept on battling and their goal arrived in additional time through Alan Connolly, but it was Wexford who set up a semi-final clash with Waterford, while Cork will look forward to meeting old rivals Kilkenny.
WEXFORD: M Fanning; S Donohoe, L Ryan, C Devitt; P Foley (0-2), D Reck, J O'Connor (0-2); D O'Keeffe (0-1), C Dunbar; L Óg McGovern (0-1), O Foley (0-2), K Foley; R O'Connor (1-11, four frees, one 65), C McDonald (0-2), C Byrne-Dunbar (0-1).
Subs: M Dwyer for Vyrne-Dunbar (49 mins), C McGuckin for J O'Connor (54), O Pepper for Dunbar (60), C Flood for Devitt (64), C Hearne for R O'Connor (68).
CORK: G Collins; D Cahalane, D O'Leary, N O'Leary; S O'Leary-Hayes, C Joyce (0-2, one free), R Downey (0-2); B Roche, L Meade (0-1); S Harnedy, S Barrett, S Twomey; S Kingston (0-3, three frees), A Connolly (1-1), C Lehane (0-6, four frees).
Subs: M Keane (0-1) for Harney, C Cahalane for Twomey, S Quirke for Roche (all h-t), J O'Connor (0-1) for Kingston (45), R O'Flynn for Barrett (63).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).