For hurling supporters around the country, it may simply be watching their county side take on another county’s finest fifteen in front of a noisy and passionate crowd.
If that is the definition of normality, it certainly returned at Chadwick’s Wexford Park on Saturday afternoon.
Wexford and Kilkenny’s Walsh Cup meeting took on so much more meaning than anyone could have ever predicted less than two years ago as thousands of supporters and two brilliant teams saw the purity of hurling restored.
In the end, a draw was a fair reflection on a wonderful occasion as Wexford progressed to the Walsh Cup final next weekend against Dublin.
Thankfully, the game itself matched the occasion.
It was James Bergin who opened the scoring with an early free for Kilkenny but Wexford’s scoring power from play throughout the first half, something that Kilkenny struggled to cope with, kicked in soon after the Conahy Shamrocks man’s score.
Wing-backs Connal Flood and Matthew O’Hanlon took advantage of the space afforded to them to move Wexford into the lead before the impressive Oisin Foley got the first of his six first half points from play to give the home side a 0-03 to 0-01 after five minutes.
Kilkenny’s maiden score from play came from midfielder and man of the match Cian Kenny. Wexford responded once more, however, with Conor McDonald and Oisin Foley proving too much to handle for a ragged looking Kilkenny defence.
Despite two further points from Bergin to narrow the margin, Wexford’s dominance began to show on the scoreboard during a ten minute spell that brought the home crowd to life.
Cian Byrne, Connal Flood and McDonald all added to Wexford’s advantage and the third points of the game for both McDonald and Foley either side of an Eoin O’Shea goal effort that flew over the bar gave Darragh Egan’s men a 0-10 to 0-05 lead midway through the first half.
Four consecutive points from Chris Bolger, John Donnelly, James Maher and Martin Keoghan, all getting on the scoresheet for the first time, made it a one-point game.
That was the best Kilkenny could come up with, however, as Wexford’s intensity was far beyond anything Laois had to offer in Kilkenny’s opening round clash last weekend.
Mark Fanning beat his opposite number Darren Brennan with an expertly dispatched penalty and it was one-way traffic for the remainder of the half with Flood, McDonald and Foley all adding to their individual tallies before one final point from a tight angle from Conor Hearne gave Wexford a deserved 1-16 to 0-12 lead at the interval.
Cian Byrne began the scoring after the break with a free but it was at the other end were a key moment came and went for Brian Cody’s side as Chris Bolger’s goal effort was somehow saved by Fanning.
Youngsters Bergin and Byrne exchanged frees but the lively Bolger made no mistake when he got his second goal chance in quick succession as he buried a low shot to the back of the net. From seemingly nowhere, Kilkenny were back in the game as they trailed by five points, 1-18 to 1-13.
Cian Kenny took over the free-taking duty from Bergin after he was replaced by the experienced Walter Walsh and the James Stephens man pointed his first two dead balls of the afternoon with a Paul Morris free for the hosts in between those two Kilkenny scores.
Just as it looked as though Kilkenny were in the midst of one of their epic comebacks, they were the victims of a sever sucker-punch against the run of play as Cathal Dunbar got his side’s second goal of the game with a rocket to the top corner to re-establish their seven-point lead, Wexford 2-19 to 1-15 Kilkenny.
Harry Kehoe and Walter Walsh exchanged scores after the water break and a second point from Tullaroan forward Martin Keoghan made it a two-score game with ten minutes remaining.
Keoghan’s clubmate Padraig Walsh pointed from distance straight from the puckout but Paul Morris stemmed the tide for the 2019 Leinster champions with a superb score from over his shoulder, Wexford 2-21 to 1-18 Kilkenny.
Two back-to-back points from Kenny left the game on a knife-edge, with an anxious home support in Chadwick’s Wexford Park fearing another heartbreaking defeat to their biggest rivals despite this being a pre-season game in January.
A combination of a boisterous crowd and two committed teams gave an entertaining clash the feel of a Leinster championship game. Kilkenny had made it less entertaining for the Wexford fans as the game went on, however, with a Walter Walsh point and Colm Prenderville equalised with an incredible goal for the visitors, 2-22 to 2-22 with five minutes left on the clock.
The 20-time Walsh Cup champions took the lead for the first time since they went 0-01 to 0-00 ahead in the opening minute as the outstanding Cian Kenny split the posts with a free from within his own half before the goalscorer Prenderville added a point to give the Cats a 2-22 to 2-24 lead.
Paul Morris went agonisingly close with a goal effort that hit the post but wing-back Connal Flood made sure that the attack was not in vain as he gathered possession and pulled one back for a shell-shocked Wexford.
Wexford levelled thanks to a late Paul Morris free but Aidan Doyle made a crucial error at the death to give Kenny a close range free that he put over the bar to give his team what many thought was a last-minute winner.
That was not the case, however, as Conor McDonald got the final score of an exhilarating tie to make it a draw game and send Wexford through to the final against Dublin on scoring difference.
Irrespective of the score, normality has returned to the sport that is beloved by so many around the country.