Kilkenny's shorter, sharper game sees two forwards make their point
Kilkenny 2-27 Wexford 0-23
Tom Dempsey and Billy Byrne are standing in front of me, and the boys agree that it wouldn't be an easy day to play in that Wexford full forward line.
Mikie Dwyer and Lee Chin are the lone-rangers today, as the sun shines and the grass glows in Nowlan Park but as good as the day was, the ball-in was bad. The task at hand, for Chin and for Dwyer, was even worse as they spent their afternoon chasing Padraig Walsh's shadow, who, pinching himself in his new role as a spare man, hurled Dwyer, Chin and eventually Wexford out of their misery.
Byrne says that Dempsey always won the ball and made his job easy. The truth is that even those tw0 would have had their work cut out this Sunday, as Kilkenny, for once and for all, look to have conquered the Wexford sweeper system that has dogged them for all these years.
If Wexford were looking for positives, they might find them in the fact that a Covid fiasco has stalked them this last fortnight and may have took its toll. On another note, it could turn out to be a stroke of genius, a cynic might call it an excuse if this was said to have been a bout of shadow-boxing, ahead of a potential meeting between these two sides in a Leinster semi-final.
If not shadow-boxing, then there is certainly cause for concern for Davy Fitzgerald, who admitted that the couple of 'new things' he tried didn't work out as planned. Aside from the brilliant Rory O'Connor, Byrne and Dempsey, on commentary for south-east radio, were Wexford's best performers here.
As for Brian Cody, it's an entirely different story and that man will sleep soundly tonight in the knowledge that Billy Ryan is hurling out of his skin, that TJ Reid is as good as he always has been, that young Darragh Corcoran is making that number seven jersey his own. Closer to the goals, Alan Murphy is as sharp as a bed of nails, a first half point that the Glenmore man somehow angled over from the sideline and on the 21, was the highlight of the day. Having struggled to solidify his place on that starting 15 in recent years, Murphy, in what has been the theme of his league campaign to date, is hurling better than ever.
After the game, Brian Cody, with a tongue in the cheek, noted that he was never an old-fashioned hurling manager to start with and by today's evidence, with Eoin Murphy routinely receiving back-passes from defenders who thought better than lamping it up the field, you'd have to take the legendary bainisteoir at his word.
1-18 for TJ Reid today.
Brian Cody will sleep soundly tonight, in the knowledge that his star man is at 33, as good as he has always been. pic.twitter.com/Lmn4SXERuS
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) May 30, 2021
Flat, sluggish or whatever you want to call it, it will certainly worry the hurling people of Wexford that their repeated attempts to build from the back looked aimless and lacked conviction - a carbon copy of their meek championship exit in 2020. It wasn't once or twice out there, when you saw Liam McGovern or Shane Reck collect a short puck-out only to turn and pass the ball sideways.
This is not the type of thing that wins a game of hurling and all the while, scalded cats like Paddy Deegan, Tommy Walsh and Conor Browne were ready to pounce down the other end of the field.
From there, they'd pick their pass rather than lamp it out of it in a calculated, methodical manner that Davy Fitzgerald was impressed with.
See ya again soon bud pic.twitter.com/PalWmEJTv2
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) May 30, 2021
"This is a completely different style of hurling for Kilkenny compared to what they were doing even ten years ago. I think they have got to grips with it way more," the Clare-man said.
And it was during that conversation with Davy, as the evening sun set on Nowlan Park, when you stopped to look around. Down one end of the field, Wexford's used an unused subs were running shuttles and up the other, there was Eoin Murphy in the middle of it all as Kilkenny did the same. The Glenmore player is a Fitzgibbon Cup winning half forward, he is a centre back for his club and as he proved when denying Lee Chin a first half goal, he is also the best goalkeeper in the game. His agility, flexibility and fitness have a big part to play in that and as you watched him busting a gut long after the last ball was pucked, you could see right there in front of you why he is the best around. Murphy is living proof of how far goalkeepers have come.
Brian Cody, as he has so often done, is taking it one game at a time but when you see TJ Reid scoring 1-18, when you see Billy Ryan getting whipped off so he wouldn't score any more, when you see Eoin Murphy pinging long-ball, short-ball every sort of ball, it dawns on you once again, when all is said and done, that Kilkenny will be there or thereabouts.
1 James Lawlor
2 Shane Reck
3 Liam Ryan
4 Joe O'Connor (0-1)
5 Glen Malone
6 Matthew O'Hanlon
7 Jack O'Connor
8 Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1)
9 Liam Og McGovern
10 Aidan Nolan (0-2)
11 Rory O'Connor (0-4)
12 Conor Devitt
13 Lee Chin (0-13, 0-10f, 0-1 65)
14 Mikie Dwyer
15 Harry Kehoe
Gavin Bailey for Joe O'Connor (25, blood), Joe O'Connor for Glen Malone (33), Kevin Foley (0-1) for Harry Kehoe (HT), Conor McDonald (0-1) for Conor Devitt (HT) David Dunne for Diarmuid O'Keeffe (54) Paul Morris for Mikie O'Dwyer (55), Shaun Murphy (0-1) for David Dunne (57)
1 Eoin Murphy
2 Tommy Walsh
3 Huw Lawlor
4 Paddy Deegan (0-1)
5 Darragh Corcoran
6 Padraig Walsh
7 Conor Browne
8 Richie Reid
9 Cillian Buckley
10 Adrian Mullen
11 John Donnelly
12 Billy Ryan (1-4)
13 James Bergin
14 TJ Reid (1-18, 0-14f, 0-1 65)
15 Alan Murphy (0-3)
Subs: Eoin Cody (0-1) for James Bergin (23), James Maher for Billy Ryan (48), Conor Fogarty for Cillian Buckley (48), Michael Carey for Richie Reid (63), Liam Blanchfield for Adrian Mullen (70)