'it's very hard to beat a feeling we have today'
“IT’S VERY hard to beat a feeling like we have today,” says Brian Cody, nailing in a sentence the one simple reason this never gets old.
Nine of his 13 seasons in charge have ended like this, a dopey grin beaming out from under the rim of his cap and Liam MacCarthy heading home with him the next day. Everything else – the rows, the referees, the who-said-what- about-whom – it all melts away and all that is left is pride and satisfaction.
The season takes its turns but what matters is being here for this day and doing yourself justice. This one took the sort of turn he isn’t used to – a championship hiding and a trip through the qualifiers. To end it handing out a thumping to the team who brought them to their knees in the Leinster final was sweet, although you never really got the sense that this was about vengeance for Kilkenny. Just business, really.
“They had beaten us comprehensively in the Leinster final and in the drawn match they had really put it up to us, especially in the first half. Obviously, we settled well in the second half but they came back again and we couldn’t get over the line,” said Cody.
“Today again, we started lively and we started well. We were certainly going well and then we were hit by two goals again and it was, ‘What’s going to happen after this?’ But the response was instant and very strong and that was the key to it today. The performance of the team was absolutely outstanding.”
As ever, what rang Cody’s bell the loudest was the amount of work his side put in. the tackling, the hooking, the blocking. Two key points in the first half came from turnover ball. He could write poems about that kind of effort.
“Well, it’s everything,” he says. “You’re talking about a situation where the ball could be up in our square, over our bar, but players working hard, like you could take Eoin Larkin today, his workrate was just stratospheric.
“It was amazing, the work he put into it. People were questioning after the last day, how was he going to go. As a captain today, he just went out today and performed as a captain should perform. But he’s been doing it for many years as well. Eoin and everybody else as well.
“You know, they answered all the questions that were asked of them today in an absolutely massive way, midfield as well, young Cillian Buckley in midfield there as well, playing powerfully, Mick Fennelly back to his best. I’m not trying to single out players because I couldn’t. I thought from 1-15 and the subs that came in, and the subs that didn’t come in, and everybody concerned, it was a tribute to every single person involved.”
Beside him, his clubmate Larkin shrugs off the praise. It’s put to him that maybe he and the rest of the Kilkenny forwards had some making up to do after Henry Shefflin had kept them in the drawn game.
“Probably the rest of the forwards were disappointed that they didn’t work as hard as they probably could have in the drawn game. I think that’s what drove me on anyway. And I’m sure that’s what drove the rest of the lads on. Henry dragged us single-handedly back into the drawn game. So I supposed if you wanted to look at it like that, maybe we did owe him one.”
That one is thrown on the pile now and Shefflin stands alone on top of it, nine All-Ireland medals won. At 33 and with a world of injuries behind him, nobody would blame him for deciding it’s his last.
Yet ask Cody if we’ll see Shefflin next year and his answer arrows to the heart of what has got him and them this far.
“I would be amazed if you don’t,” he says. “Just now, I haven’t spoken to Henry about it obviously. The thing a lot of people forget when they talk about hunger, about this fella doing this or that, to me it’s very simple – Henry is just in love with the game.
“He just loves playing hurling, as does Eoin Larkin and all the rest of the lads. They’re not concerned about can I get this, can I get that, can I get the other thing. It’s, ‘Can I get on the team? Can I get playing up here, down in Thurles? Can I just keep playing and keep training?’ That’s what they’re obsessed with, thanks be to God.
“They love the game, they love playing the game. It’s an addictive game and it spreads right through. You know, Henry, Eoin, so many people, Noel, they continue to inspire youngsters of five, six, seven, eight, nine and the club players around the county. That’s it, the game goes on, we’re privileged and proud to be part of it.”
Simple really, when he puts it like that.