Kilkenny forward Eoin Larkin plays down Cody’s absence for league final
Coach’s first absence for a meaningful game since he took charge over 14 seasons ago
It was with some comic inevitability that when pressed on the absence of manager Brian Cody over the coming weeks Kilkenny forward Eoin Larkin said all the wrong things - meaning to say all the right things.
"Ah, sure there won't anything changed, to be honest," said Larkin. "It will be the same as always. We'll meet on a Sunday morning, come down on the bus, get the bit of grub... Hopefully we can do without him."
So, what exactly makes Cody so important in the first place?
With that Larkin realised his hopeless cover up, although was a little less willing to reveal what Cody does actually bring to match day proceedings: "Well, I can't ever remember him missing even a training session, or a match. But we have to get on with our job, let Brian recover. The two selectors (Martin Fogarty and Mick Dempsey) are taking the reins, are well qualified to do the job, and I'm sure Brian will probably have a say on the phone anyway."
Yet it will mark Cody's first absence from the sideline for such a meaningful game since he took charge over 14 seasons ago, in the autumn of 1998, and it can't exactly help their chances going into Sunday's Allianz Hurling League semi-final against Galway.
What is certain is that Cody's six-week lay-off due to minor cardiac surgery earlier this month is better done with now that at the height of the summer, assuming of course that Cody does return in time. Nor is Cody needed right now to brief his team on Sunday's opposition - or indeed rile them up. Galway have the knack of bringing out the very best in Kilkenny, and vice versa, with the exception of Galway's virtual hammering in Nowlan Park in the last round of the league this time last year.
Galway responded to that defeat - Kilkenny's 3-26 to their 0-10 - with their now famous Leinster final ambush, winning out by 10 points. Kilkenny struck back again to claim the All-Ireland, after a replay, before losing out by three points in Pearse Stadium back in February, although Larkin, not surprisingly, doesn't single another particular about Galway's challenge - especially not the suggestion they're the one team that can get under Kilkenny's skin.
"I wouldn't say they get under our skin, though I suppose they've done that in the last year or two. I don't know what it is, but they're a good team first and foremost. If we're not at the top of our game they can beat us but we've always said if we're not at the top of our game anyone can beat us. As we saw at the weekend with Cork and Clare. Many people would have said Cork would win, but it didn't happen."
For Larkin, who captained Kilkenny to that All-Ireland replay victory last September, the opportunity to defend their league title too is not something they intend on taking light. It wasn't the most convincing of paths through Division 1A, but now that they're within licking distance of another league medal there won't be any let up.
"The pressure was kind of on, after the first few rounds, but we got the luck in the last three games, that we didn't get in the first two. Now we're just trying to get to a league final, because the more competitive games we can get leading into the championship, the better."
Kilkenny's path to Sunday's semi-final has been marked by the now familiar absence of Henry Shefflin for league duty, although the latest update on his ankle injury (the removal of pins) indicates he may actually be on course to maintain that 14-year record of never missing a championship game, provided everything goes well between now and Kilkenny's championship opener against Offaly on June 9th. TJ Reid has also been sidelined with a broken kneecap, and while others such as Paul Murphy and Jackie Tyrrell have missing at times, fresh faces such as midfielder Lester Ryan and forward Ger Aylward have been stepped up to the mark.
And Larkin, who also completed his Leaving Cert last year, aged 29, with the intention now of applying for a college degree, says the day Kilkenny start worrying about Shefflin's absence is the day they will actually miss him (again meaning to say all the right things).
"There is no real talk about it, but, sure, the hope is he will be back. We just get on with our own job and when he's back he's back. I suppose if you starting worrying about is he going to get back, isn't he going to get back, you're taking your eye off the ball and we've an important match on Sunday, so we have to get our heads down. He's been in and around it a couple of times, a couple of weeks ago he was in doing a bit of jogging so hopefully he will be there for the summer."
Here's hoping they both will.
Paths to the semi-final -
Galway 3-11 Kilkenny 0-17
Clare 0-18 Galway 1-13
Tipperary 4-22 Galway 1-20
Galway 2-12 Cork 2-12
Galway 0-15 Waterford 0-12
Played 5, Won 2, Drew 1, Lost 2.
Average For: 1-16; Average Against: 1-17
Galway 3-11 Kilkenny 0-17
Tipperary 2-17 Kilkenny 1-19
Kilkenny 2-15 Waterford 0-16
Kilkenny 3-10 Clare 1-15
Kilkenny 0-20 Cork 2-12
Played 5, Won 3, Lost 2
Average For: 1-17; Average Against: 1-16
Last Five Clashes
Galway 3-11 Kilkenny 0-17 (2013 NHL)
Kilkenny 3-22 Galway 3-11 (2012 All-Ireland final replay)
Kilkenny 0-19 Galway 2-13 (2012 All-Ireland final)
Galway 2-21 Kilkenny 2-11 (2012 Leinster final)
Kilkenny 3-26 Galway 0-10 (2012 NHL)
Galway 2, Kilkenny 2, Draw 1.