Murder in plain sight as Kilkenny Cats bare their claws
Kilkenny 5-25 Wexford 0-16 Leinster SHC Semi-Final
Little wonder hurling is so full of downtrodden old fatalists whose nightmares run on stripey newsreels.
They should build drop-in centres for people broken by Kilkenny. Organise prayer-groups, maybe. We slipped into Nowlan Park yesterday believing that Brian Cody's men might be, if not quite in transition, at least just ever so slightly rusty. And they met our expectations with the faintly jaded air of a community that does not entertain the notion of cycles.
Half a dozen greats might have left their dressing-room through winter, but you could not tell it here. You never can. Kilkenny find remedies. They quarry out solutions. They keep moving on.
So they beat Wexford by two dozen points, their performance lent colour by the derring-do of Ger Aylward, a young man just making up the numbers these last two seasons.
It was a devastating statement of renewal, a reminder to all that punditry is still just the fantasy land of trying to prophesise when Kilkenny might be human again.
And Cody stood there watching it all with that unreadable stare of a man who regards these days as the simple oiling of machinery. Lifetimes have been spent watching Kilkenny kill hopeful Wexford teams with early goals and that's precisely what unfolded here. A script that has been written across generations.
Richie Hogan and Aylward both found the back of Mark Fanning's net inside the opening 12 minutes and thereafter, the game almost had a bogus feel, an exercise reduced to the chasing of cheap rounds of applause.
Wexford were everything they needed to avoid becoming. They pulled an extra man to the middle third, then spooned aimless ball down upon the unemployed jailer (Jackie Tyrrell).
They leaked careless wides, they over-cooked hand-passes, they scuffed at line-balls as if the turf beneath their feet was swaying. Wexford seemed oddly hypnotised by their opponents, and to be that way against Kilkenny is to leave the family silver by an open door.
It's true, short of taking a flame-thrower to the Glenmore man, they'd have struggled to subdue Aylward. But their problems were much broader than that. Wexford needed three touches where Kilkenny needed one. They had no-one with the regal wrists of, say, Richie Hogan or Eoin Larkin or TJ Reid.
Everything Wexford did required great, groaning effort; everything Kilkenny did seemed an ode.
So Liam Dunne's men were traduced by old worries here. Their hurling simply lacked the pace and clarity you need just to live with the modern Kilkenny, and their inability to make Conor McDonald even a peripheral presence in the contest captured their day in microcosm.
With the wind at their backs, they needed to apply first-half pressure and perhaps they might have had Ian Byrne or Liam Og McGovern availed of goal-scoring opportunities. That said, as Dunne averred, a Wexford goal might simply have "prolonged the agony".
Kilkenny in this period were, as they always tend to be, watchful, unemotional, patient. They started Reid at full-forward, John Power playing on the wing as a replacement for Colin Fennelly, who'd taken a blow in Friday night's training.
So, denied Fennelly and Richie Power, we might have anticipated some sense of awkwardness in Kilkenny's forward play, but instead got poetry.
Dunne admitted after that his team might have conceded "three or four more goals", a sobering thought given the arithmetic atop this report. But that was the tenor of it right enough. This was slaughter.
Wexford's difficulties were shoehorned into a single passage just ten minutes in when, immediately after Hogan's goal, Lee Chin caught the puck-out only to drill a shot luridly wide with McDonald and McGovern hungry for possession inside. Walter Walsh immediately caught Eoin Murphy's restart to set up Larkin for a Kilkenny point.
Self-harm against these boys is plain silly.
Reid's penalty conversion on the half-hour effectively ended all pretence of a serious contest and thereafter, it was little more than a cold exercise in book-keeping. Kilkenny led 3-7 to 0-10 at the mid-point and Reid was almost in for another goal with five seconds of the resumption, Fanning saving smartly for a '65'.
The wonder was the time in possession that Kilkenny's superior touch could buy them. At times, Hogan and Larkin especially could have stopped to check their laces such was the ease of movement afforded them.
And, on 48 minutes then, Kilkenny delivered a goal of brutal directness. Michael Fennelly's long delivery reached Reid, who shipped two tackles before off-loading to Aylward for a sniped finish. Then that business of self-harm raised its head again for Kilkenny's 53rd-minute fifth, both Andrew Shore and Ciaran Kenny failing to get control of the sliotar and Aylward dispensing punishment with a snappy ground-stroke.
The numbing sight followed of Wexford supporters spilling down the steps in droves, their judgment essentially vindicated by the team's virtual downing of arms. In the last four minutes, Kilkenny scored an unanswered 0-7, just easing through the gears as if their opponent was no more animate than a hurling wall.
So it was utterly bloodless in the end, an exercise just enumerating the obvious. For Wexford, the old nightmare runs and runs then. They will hope for different things in this morning's qualifier draw, yet maybe nothing more fervently than a home game on July 4.
You could feel the heat of their hurling yesterday, a remarkable thing given they'd been all but sitting on their hands for the previous 12 weeks.
The spell they have on the game makes it almost feel like an occasion of sin whenever they are beaten. It seems laughable to think that we imagined that might happen here. That they could, perhaps, be mildly brittle.
Will we ever truly know them?
Scorers - Kilkenny: G Aylward 3-5, TJ Reid 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-3 fs, 0-1 '65'), R Hogan 1-5, E Larkin 0-3, J Power 0-2, C Buckley, M Fennelly, K Kelly 0-1 each. Wexford: I Byrne 0-11 (9fs), D Redmond 0-2, L Og McGovern, A Shore 0-1 each.
Kilkenny - E Murphy 8, P Murphy 8, J Holden 8, J Tyrrell 8, P Walsh 7, K Joyce 7, C Buckley 7, M Fennelly 6, C Fogarty 7, W Walsh 6, R Hogan 8, J Power 7, E Larkin 8, TJ Reid 8, G Aylward 9. Subs: K Kelly 7 for Power (56), S Prendergast 6 for Tyrrell (6), R Lennon 6 for P Murphy (60), M Kelly 6 for Larkin (63).
Wexford - M Fanning 6, C Kenny 6, L Ryan 6, E Moore 5, L Chin 6, M O'Hanlon 6, A Shore 6, D Redmond 7, D Waters 5, S Tomkins 5, I Byrne 7, D O'Keeffe 6, P Morris 5, C McDonald 5, L Og McGovern 7. Subs: K Foley 6 for Morris (18 mins), A Nolan 5 for Moore (32), H Kehoe 5 for Tomkins (h-t), P Doran 5 for Waters (h-t), E Martin 5 for Shore (62), G Sinnott 5 for McGovern (64).
Ref - D Kirwan (Cork)
Game at a glance
Man of the Match: No great argument here with Ger Aylward's 3-5 representing a serious statement of intent from the Glenmore man now in his third season on the Kilkenny panel. Will still rue two second-half wides with team-mates available to take the pass.
The poverty of Wexford's challenge which was already in crisis-mode after the concession of two goals in the first 12 minutes. Liam Dunne admitted to anger afterwards at the extent to which heads dropped in the second period.
Richie Hogan's brilliant re-adjustment to bat the first goal past Mark Fanning encapsulated the difference between the teams.
A relatively easy day for Diarmuid Kirwan. Only one name went into the referee's book all day.
Kilkenny play Galway in the Leinster final, Wexford go into today's All-Ireland qualifier draw.