By Ger Canning
The Killkenny bandwagon just rolls on and on. In today's Leinster final they beat their old rivals from Wexford by double scores. It was Brian Cody's eighth Leinster success since 1999.
By half-time this had ceased to be a meaningful contest. By that stage they led by 2-11 to 0-06.
After the game manager Cody looked embarrassed, John Meyler, his Wexford counterpart, certainly was. Meyler even apologised to Wexford followers for the inept display produced by his charges.
Okay, they are still in the championship, but on this showing very few will rate their chances of advancing beyond the quarter-finals.
It was the afternoon when Willie O'Dwyer produced his deadliest form in front of goal. He finished the match with a personal tally of 2-03, most of that coming in a highly-productive first 35 minutes.
Kilkenny changed about their forward-line from the outset and placed Henry Shefflin at full-forward and O'Dwyer at top-of-the-left. As early as the fourth minute the Mullinavat player moved with menace in from the right wing and produced a goal-bound shot which was deflected on the line by Decan Ruth.
The latter was given the task on marking Shefflin and from an early stage there were strong indications that the Rapparees' defender was in difficulty. Ruth is normally a centre half-back and even during the league there were hints that he lacked the commanding presence needed for the edge of the square. Brian Cody had his homework done, as usual.
The opening nine minutes of the 'contest' were Wexford's best. Early points by Stephen Nolan, Richie Kehoe and Eoin Quigley were giving their committed followers hope that they might replicate their win over 'the Cats' in 2004, admittedly at the semi-final stage.
That optimism was shattered devastatingly by a second Kilkenny goal in the 12th minute. A piece of real wizardry by the captain, Henry Shefflin saw him win possession out ahead of the hapless Ruth.
He then lobbed the ball over the defender's head, balance the ball close to the endline at the Canal End, before playing it across the face of goal for the inrushing Willie O'Dwyer. The finish was sublime. It made the score 2-02 to 0-03.
Moreover, Wexford knew the real 'score', and it wasn't a pretty picture they were viewing!
The defending champions were hurling with customary verve and style, allied to a ruthlessness which does not allow sentiment get in the way of the ultimate goal.
Kilkenny's support play was outstanding and their use of the ball always smacked of composure. An example is Martin Comerford's point in the 28th minute.
PJ Ryan, brilliant in goal, drove a puck-out to midfield. 'Cha' Fitzpatrick won it cleanly and delivered an inch-perfect pass in front of Comerford. The lethal number 14 merely turned on to it and drove a wonderful shot over the bar.
There were many similar examples. By comparison Wexford laboured. They sent eight shots wide in the first half and this firmly established a pattern. Backs rushed clearances, resulting in very poor-quality ball going into a full-forward line, which was small in stature.
After the early damage was done, John Meyler withdrew the experienced Declan Ruth and re-positioned Keith Rossiter to full-back. A clearly unhappy Ruth was seen to move off quickly into the dressing rooms and wasn't to be seen later. Not exactly the best example of team spirit!
The second half opened with Barry Lambert and Rory McCarthy introduced for Michael Jacob and captain, Nigel Higgins. It made no appreciable difference. Kilkenny maintained their own high standard and were as relentless as ever.
The first four scores were all Kilkenny points, frees from 'Cha' and Henry and two from play courtesy of Comerford and the aforementioned Shefflin. Wexford's indiscipline was being cruelly punished. Rank bad play on their part saw the All-Ireland champions mount up the scores. It was just no contest.
Manager Cody had the luxury of withdrawing four of his six starting backs and replace them with men of quality and experience.
More than one in an attendance of 34,872 must have wondered what the 'real' Leinster finals are like i.e. the behind closed-doors matches between Kilkenny A versus Kilkenny B in training are like!
Today's mis-match merely served to underline the major problems confronting the Leinster Council and hurling in general. Their major championship is no longer competitive!
By the time Stephen Nolan drove a free to the rear of the Kilkenny goal in the 55th minute the margin was 13 points, 2-18 to 1-08. There was very little by way of compensation for the beaten team, and in truth no excuses either.
Damien Fitzhenry had played in his twelfth provincial final and this was an afternoon when almost everything went wrong in front of him.
The team has failed to improve after a similar hefty trouncing in the League semi-final ten weeks ago, also at the hands of Kilkenny. Keith Rossiter deserves commendation in the face of wave after wave of Kilkenny attacking play.
He was supported in this thankless exercise by Paul Roche and Malachy Travers in the corners, while the only attacker of note was Rory Jacob playing at left corner-forward. Two of his three points were from seemingly impossible angles.
The stars were all wearing black and amber. Henry Shefflin, subjected to physical intimidation (so what's new!), completed his day with nine points on his tab, ably supported by Martin Comerford with five points from play.
Gentleman that he is, Shefflin spoke kindly at the finish on receipt of the Bob O'Keeffe Cup. He reminded his audience that both Wexford and Kilkenny will need to improve if the biggest prize in the sport, the McCarthy Cup, is to be retained in Leinster possession this autumn.
The Cats are serious contenders as ever. Wexford seem destined for the ranks of the 'also rans'.