Ger Aylward and Kilkenny send out serious statement with Wexford demolition
Kilkenny 5-25 Wexford 0-16
KILKENNY began the 2015 All-Ireland series as they finished the 2014 campaign with a swagger.
It was if what happened in the League was a mirage.
Today they were back to their brilliant best as they crushed Wexford at Nowlan Park to book a place in next month's Leinster final against Galway.
The victory was every bit as emphatic as their 24 point winning margin suggests. Even allowing for the feeble nature of the visitors' challenge there was an emphatic message to all would be All-Ireland contenders in the win.
Household names such as Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan may have departed but the Cats haven't gone away. And just to emphasise the new found resolve they unveiled a new forward ace.
Glenmore's Ger Aylward - who, ironically, was educated across the county boundary in Good Counsel, New Ross amassed an impressive tally of 3-5 from play in his first championship start.
This was a crushing setback for Liam Dunne's squad whose performances in last year's qualifiers - remember they knocked out defending title holders, Clare - suggested they were on the road to recovery.
Ominously they collapsed in the All-Ireland quarter final against Limerick and didn't have a particularly inspiring League campaign. But nobody - least of all the 19, 134 attendance - couldn't foreseen this sporting massacre.
Kilkenny trade in goals, hitting opponents in devastating bursts and protecting their full back line. There was no surprises in their tactics. The loss of Colin Fennelly wasn't noticed - his replacement John Power announced his arrival by hitting their first point.
But Wexford, who had the aid of a very strong wind in the first half, failed both on the pitch and on the sideline to match the home side. Their first touch was poor; their option taking woeful and they were destroyed in both the aerial battle and ground battles.
Ian Byrne's free taking was excellent but otherwise it was a day to forget for Wexford - not a single one of their players won his individual battle as Kilkenny's trademark hunger, skill, work rate and tactical acumen made Wexford look utterly out of their depth.
After a cautious opening -Wexford actually led early on - Kilkenny hit the turbo for the first time in a three minute spell between the 10th and 13th minutes with goals from Richie Hogan and Ger Aylward.
Their use of a two man full forward line Aylward and TJ Reid with Eoin Larkin operating at midfield and wing forwards, John Power and Walter Walsh, in particular, playing very deep Kilkenny were able to create space up front and virtually every time they attacked they looked capable of finding the net.
A penalty goal from TJ Reid in the 28th minute after he was upended by Liam Ryan promptly ended a mini Wexford revival which had seen them outscore the home side 5-1 in the preceding 14 minutes.
Kilkenny led 3-5 to 0-8 at the break but any remote chance of a Wexford revival had ended by the 48th minute when Aylward got his second goal. By the time he completed his hat trick in the 52nd minute the Wexford fans were heading for the exits.
The fact that the rest of the match was played in near total silence was telling.
But the other quality which has distinguished Kilkenny hurling under Brian Cody is their ruthlessness. They never relented hitting another 1-9 before the finish with Wexford responding with two points.
The final whistle couldn't come fast enough.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, J Tyrrell; P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley (0-1); M Fennelly (0-1) , C Fogarty; W Walsh, R Hogan (1-5), J Power (0-2); G Aylward (3-5), TJ Reid (1-7, 1gl pen, 3f, 1 65)), E Larkin (1-3). Subs: K Kelly (0-1) for Power 56m; S Prendergast for Tyrrell 60m; R Lennon for Murphy 61m; M Kelly for Larkin 63m
Wexford: M Fanning; E Moore, L Ryan, C Kenny; A Shore (0-1), M O'Hanlon, L Chin; D Redmond (0-2), D Waters, D O'Keeffe, S Tomkins, I Byrne (0-11, 9f); P Morris, C McDonald, L Og McGovern (0-2). Subs: K Foley for Morris 20m (Blood sub); A Nolan for Moore 32m, P Doran for Waters ht; H Kehoe for Tomkins ht; E Martin for Shore 62m; G Sinnott for McGovern 65m.
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)