Kilkenny 2-27 Wexford 0-23
Well, that was a disappointment. Summer arrived from somewhere and Nowlan Park was resplendent in the sun and the warmth, the surface like a carpet and one of recent game's edgiest rivalries ready to go.
And then, nothing.
Apart from a lively opening, which saw just a score between them by the 11th minute, the match died. Kilkenny’s energy and drive took them steadily away and out of sight, like a missed train chuffing into the distance.
Once Rory O'Connor's early promise, which brought two points in a minute, was stilled, Wexford were distinctly second-best.
Even when a stronger selection after half-time arrested the decline, there was never the hint that the outcome might be affected, as for the most part Lee Chin and TJ Reid exchanged frees from a variety of angles and distances and the margin seldom budged significantly from ten points.
Chin nearly got in for a goal 10 minutes after the restart, which might have suggested a recovery but he didn't quite get hold of it and Eoin Murphy did the rest with a smart save.
There were the muffled whispers about stewards' enquiries and how high up Wexford's list of priorities actually winning the game was and there were few volcanic eruptions of frustration on the sideline. Afterwards Davy Fitzgerald played it straight when asked had they been a bit "flat" in the first half.
“Flat is putting it mildly, when you’re down by 14 points at half-time. It isn’t a nice place to be inside there, especially when you’re playing Kilkenny at home but I’m extremely proud of the lads, they fought hard. I think we won the second half by four, missed a goal and a few bad wides.
“I thought we held our own in the second half. First half, I would be disappointed in the two goals we gave up but that’s the name of the game. Hopefully we’ll be able to rectify that. But I thought Kilkenny were awesome today.”
Fitzgerald did have an alibi in that the team’s need to isolate, after being deemed close contacts of a Covid case in the panel, had disrupted training but his response was that they had actually started well enough.
He praised the variation in the opposition's game plan, which has shown more of an embrace of modern, tippy-tappy stuff although predictably, Brian Cody was dismissive when asked was he happy with progress now they were adapting to a "running game".
“I wouldn’t look at things like that at all. Anyone who ever played hurling, the philosophy was that you always gave the ball to the man in the best position.
“That said, it could be a hand-pass of five yards or a 60 yard pass. You do what you do. There is huge reference being made to those sorts of things now. I don’t see it as anything major to be honest about it.”
Cody, who has rarely in his 23 years failed to play a match on its merits, was also brusque when asked about the possibility that Wexford had other things on their mind.
“I think that is a question you should ask of someone else. I would have no idea about that.”
The answer to that might have been contained in Fitzgerald’s post-match explanation of his approach.
“I wanted to try out a few things today as well, I got to see how well they worked or how well they didn’t work and that’s no harm either do you know.”
Deploying Liam Óg McGovern as a sweeper wasn't a resounding success but with the whole team off the pace it was hard to judge – the arrival, however, of regular 'libero' Kevin Foley after the break tightened things up.
Of some satisfaction for Kilkenny was that TJ Reid's mechanical scoring hardware remains in good shape – he amassed 1-18, 0-15 from dead-ball awards – and Billy Ryan returned to the team and played well for 1-4, his goal fired in from an angle in the sixth minute being a score that Fitzgerald credited with causing his team to lose shape.
Alan Murphy also demonstrated his cutting edge with three from play, from narrow angles on either side of the field.
The half backs dominated contested ball and behind them the full-back line mopped up any leaks and Paddy Deegan was able to get up for a couple of thrashes, including a point.
Captain, Adrian Mullen is still feeling his way back after serious injury but he had a role in the second goal when he and Evan Cody combined to set up their club-mate Reid's goal on the half hour after a series of shots were nearly kept out by Wexford goalkeeper James Lawlor.
Another Ballyhale alumnus, rookie Darragh Corcoran lived up to his growing reputation even if his some of forays up the field showed more adventure than accuracy. Cody agreed that younger players had taken their chances.
“They have done – whatever age they are. I’ve always said we’d have great confidence in the panel we have and that’s as it is.”
In relation to the to-ing and fro-ing of recent weeks between Clare and Wexford over the Covid outbreak, Fitzgerald wasn’t taking the bait.
“Listen, as we’ve said in Wexford, the HSE do their job; we do ours,” he concluded.
KILKENNY: 1. E Murphy; 2. T Walsh, 3. H Lawlor, 4. P Deegan (0-1); 5. D Corcoran, 6. P Walsh, 7. C Browne; 8. R Reid, 9. C Buckley; 10. A Mullen (capt), 11. J Donnelly, 12. B Ryan (1-4); 13. J Bergin, 14. TJ Reid (1-18, 0-14 frees, one 65), 15. A Murphy (0-3). Subs: 24. E Cody (0-1) for Bergin (24 mins), 21. C Fogarty for Buckley (49 mins), 23. J Maher for Ryan (49 mins), 18. M Carey for Reid (64 mins),22. L Blanchfield for Mullen (71 mins).
WEXFORD: 1. J Lawlor; 2. S Reck, 3. L Ryan, 4. Joe O'Connor; 18. G Malone, 6 M O'Hanlon (joint-captain), 19.Jack O'Connor; 8. D O'Keeffe (0-1), 10. A Nolan (0-2); 12. C Devitt, 22, L Chin (0-13, 0-10 frees, one 65), 11. R O'Connor (0-4); 9. L McGovern, 14. M Dwyer, 15. H Kehoe. Subs: 5. G Bailey (0-1) for Malone (34 mins), 26. K Foley for Kehoe (half-time), 23. C McDonald (0-1) for Devitt (half-time), 13. D Dunne for O'Keeffe (54 mins), 7. C Flood for Jack O'Connor (54 mins), 25. P Morris for Dwyer (55 mins), 24. S Murphy (0-1) for Dunne (58 mins).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).