Kilkenny lost a hurling match. Cue nationwide shock, premature dismissal of their chances in the All Ireland series, and possibility that they are, in fact, functional beyond belief.
Hold on a second, though. It’s April.
No national prizes are handed out in April. Statements?
Well, they are certainly made in April. Generals test their soldiers to see how they would in fare in bloody combat, but no one’s Summer ends in mid-Spring.
Clare made a big statement in the National League semi-final in Thurles on Sunday.
They did what they should have continued doing after the All-Ireland win of 2013. Clare were without Shane O’Donnell, David McInerney and Peter Duggan, but they didn’t even break their stride as they brushed aside the All-Ireland champions.
They were like greyhounds breaking out of the traps, and the Kilkenny defence struggled to hang on to their coat-tails.
The ball was thrown-in among the usual big, messy group of players assembled in the middle of the field, something that is now getting more common in inter-county hurling.
Clare employed their sweeper system, and it was obvious from an early stage that the Kilkenny forwards might have to work beyond themselves to break down the Banner defence.
Interestingly enough, Kilkenny played with only five forwards throughout most of the game.
One would wonder was it to placate the rampant Clare attack or to facilitate the absence of Kilkenny’s first choice midfield pair by playing a third man there. It was unusual for Kilkenny.
After all, they rarely play games on opponents terms, but they did so on Sunday.
Clare were impressive. They came into the game with a plan, and they executed it to perfections.
Every time a Kilkenny forward touched the ball he was quickly surrounded by Clare players.
The winners work rate and attitude were top class, and to beat Kilkenny at what can be said is their own game was serious indeed.
The usual suspects were clinical for Kilkenny when they needed them most.
T.J. Reid and Richie Hogan were closely marshalled, and even then, they made a real nuisance of themselves. Walter Walsh and John Joe Farrell had their say when Kilkenny tried to gain momentum, but easier to overwhelm when it mattered most.
The defence did not have one of their best days.
Murphy a loss
The absence of Paul Murphy was sorely felt. Not only does he offer excellent cover for his goalkeeper, but he is an excellent leader.
It is rare you associate the Kilkenny defence with the word disjointed, but that was the case here, and perhaps it was self-inflicted.
The game plan that Clare played was very direct. They targeted what they felt were the weak links in the Kilkenny rearguard, and they got it spot on.
The four Clare goals came from mistakes in the Kilkenny full-back line perhaps due to a lack of communication between the trio and the goalkeeper.
Eoin Murphy has earned his place as one of the top goalkeepers in the country, and he deserves the chance for redemption after a tough day, as do the rest of the players on the pitch.
There is no such thing as bad players, just bad performances.
Manager Brian Cody and his selectors will have lots to ponder over the next few weeks, and with the start of the club championships looming, he will still be trawling the county for new talent.
So now that the League campaign has ended for the All-Ireland champions, what next?
The League campaign started with a less than inspiring loss against Waterford, but that was followed by hard fought victories over Tipperary, Galway, Cork and Dublin.
In the case of the Tipperary and Cork games, the strong showings reinforced the much admired reputation of this Kilkenny team.
When their backs are to the wall, they always find a way to win!
Never mind the semi-final, or at least let it not define the thinking.
Defeats such as these can serve as reminders that the level of performance has to be massively high to survive.
If you were to play the omen game, you could remind that Kilkenny were beaten by Tipperary in a League semi-final in 2008, the same year that they were seeking a treble.
Sport has a strange way of repeating itself, does it?
Clare march on into a Division 1A final against champions, Waterford, and they did so in emphatic fashion.
It has been a productive campaign to date for the Banner County.
They were unbeaten in Division 1B; achieved promotion to 1A and now they out mastered the masters!
It all points to a most interesting Summer for them, but the Munster championship can be a graveyard.
If Clare negotiate that successfully, who knows? They are a good team, with the potential to get better.
One thing they know and their manager reminded, is that champions are not crowned in April.
As a statement of intent, Sunday’s message from Clare was interesting, most interesting.