SO Kilkenny are back to winning ways — but only that.
Proving rumours of their demise are greatly exaggerated will only be answered if they are still around on an early autumn Sunday and regaining the ultimate title.
Nothing harsh there — that’s the expectation they have set for themselves.
Eleven-point Leinster semi-final victories aren’t going to get anybody worked up, certainly not Brian Cody and his players.
In the corresponding semi-final last year, they bettered Dublin by 19 and three months later finished second to Tipperary by eight.
No, this was about getting the ball rolling again after a tumultuous May for Kilkenny.
For Henry Shefflin, it was much more. It was a return and a splendid one at that. The broad smile that creased his face in the dressing room corridor after the game said everything about how happy he was to be back in the black and amber.
Putting up 27 scores after mustering a meagre eight in their previous outing would please most teams but this is the Cats. Standards are higher. Demands are greater. While their defeat to Dublin was an unfair reflection on them, they only did what was expected of them on Saturday.
The multitude of wides in the second half will be something Cody will pull his forwards up on during the week.
JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrrell can expect to be called over in training for one-on-one chats with the manager after giving performances below their lofty benchmarks. Eoin Larkin will also want more from himself the next day.
Kilkenny’s full-backs must thank the line in front of them for limiting the damage. Paddy Hogan and Paul Murphy belied the greenness and flanked the excellent Brian Hogan with authority.
The midfield duties were shared by the Michaels, Rice and Fennelly, as well as TJ Reid and they could hardly have been more effective.
By the 51st minute, the Wexford midfield had been replaced as a result of the trio’s superiority.
And yet this result said as much, if not more, about Wexford than Kilkenny.
During the week, they spoke about taking a leaf out of Dublin’s book and getting into Kilkenny’s face.
After the footballers’ emphatic win in the curtain-raiser, they were teed up to have a real go at the opposition but did nothing of the sort here and paid for it dearly in the second half.
Colm Bonnar had also mentioned before the game of the need to restrict Kilkenny’s scoring to less than the 20 point mark.
Speaking about Galway, Kilkenny and Tipperary, he remarked: “We wouldn’t have the same scoring threat over the full hour. We know we’re capable of scoring 1-17, 1-18 or 1-19.”
The difference in class was highlighted when Kilkenny hit that 1-19 target in the 46th minute with a Shefflin 65. Michael Fennelly followed it with a superb solo effort and Wexford wilted in front of our eyes, almost as if they had been programmed to believe they couldn’t match that total.
For the final 20 minutes they could only manage three points, one from play, as wind-assisted Kilkenny bombarded their end with on-target and not so accurate shots.
Things had looked particularly rosy for them just three minutes into the second half when a Jim Berry free brought them to within four of Kilkenny after they had trailed 1-14 to 1-9 at the break.
The crowd has ushered them back onto the field with gusto after Berry’s goal from a 20-metre free on the stroke of half-time had halted Kilkenny just when they were threatening to cut loose.
Wexford’s problems were all central. When they eventually got the ball to their inside forwards they prospered. Garrett Sinnott had given Delaney a horrid time in the first half, taking him for three points.
Rory Jacob was making a nuisance of himself against Tyrrell and had a couple of goal chances before Berry found the net.
But with Wexford showing little in the way of aerial combativeness, Kilkenny tightened their grip of the midfield area after the change of ends.
Rice cancelled out Berry’s free with his first score of the game in the 39th minute and what followed was a flurry of scores from both sides directly or almost directly from puck-outs.
Winning the resultant puck-out, PJ Nolan pointed, only for Rice to gather David Herity’s restart to split the posts again.
Sinnott and Michael Fennelly exchanged similar scores but that was enough of the messing for Kilkenny.
Two Shefflin scores from placed balls widened the gap to seven by the 46th minute and Wexford looked disheartened, coughing up six more points in the last 20 minutes.
Richie Hogan hit the post with a goal attempt with 15 minutes to go but he had already made an impression on the game when acting as playmaker in the opening half.
He also got a goal, too, in the ninth minute, when he finished expertly following a slicing run through the centre of the Wexford defence.
That rearguard had been weakened after captain Darren Stamp had failed a late fitness test and the early injury to Ciaran Kenny.
Personnel-wise, they were under strength but their heart for battle didn’t appear to be present either.
As for Kilkenny, this was but a beginning. Nothing more.
Scorers for Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-9 (6f, 2 65s); R Hogan 1-1; R Power (1f), M Rice 0-4 each; TJ Reid 0-3; M Fennelly 0-2; E Larkin, C Fennelly, P Murphy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: D Berry 1-4 (1-3f); G Sinnott 0-4; P Roche (2 65s), R Jacob 0-2 each; S Banville, PJ Nolan, M Travers 0-1 each.
Subs for Kilkenny: M Kavanagh for Tyrrell (60); E Brennan for C Fennelly (61); J Mulhall for Larkin (64).
Subs for Wexford: C Farrell for Kenny (13); M Jacob for Doran (30); E Quigley for Redmond (51); B Doyle for Nolan (62); T Waters for Kehoe (65).
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).
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