Kilkenny's modern Godfather gets a part two
ON GAELIC GAMES:NO COUNTY does “out of the blue” like Galway. During the close-on 40 years of their modern hurling identity, they have delivered the unexpected – from euphoria to dismay – so often as to be paradoxically predictable.
Tipperary, with their fine and weighty traditions, had to assemble a formidable side and make incremental progress during three seasons through league, provincial and All-Ireland competition before they could take Kilkenny in the championship.
Galway have done it three times – more often than any county – to Brian Cody’s Kilkenny. I was once told that young barristers are advised when defending clients involved in car crashes never to tell a judge that the other vehicle “came out of nowhere” but with Galway, there’s no option but to risk the court’s displeasure.
Cody had a weary demeanour in the post-match conference – not in the sense of being tired of the whole business but rather a “told-you-so” reproachfulness.
“I haven’t a different story to what I had before the game,” he said. “I said they were capable of beating us and we were capable of beating them on different days, whatever way the game works out.”
In 2001, Cody’s All-Ireland champions were hustled out of the All-Ireland semi-finals at a stage when the hurling chatter du jour was whether DJ Carey, Charlie Carter and Henry Shefflin constituted the best full-forward line in history.
Cody is rarely comfortable with superlatives. The qualities he is most quoted as admiring are honesty, industry and humility – as in the medieval memento mori rather than false modesty. In other words no one’s too big to fail.
You can imagine him being haunted by the conversations that began to spring up in recent weeks: how the championship was over and the extent to which depression stalked the land as another Kilkenny All-Ireland assumed the status of the inevitable.
Cody’s first All-Ireland as a player came against Galway 37 years ago. Coincidentally it was greeted as evidence that the team of that era – three All-Irelands in four years – was possibly the greatest of all time.
The win was also the last MacCarthy Cup success of the team coach, Fr Tommy Maher, who took the county to seven All-Irelands in 18 seasons – a feat made all the more remarkable by the presence in those same years of the great Tipperary team of the 1960s, the Cork three-in-a-row side of the 1970s and, within Leinster, a frequently menacing Wexford.
Maher’s coaching genius made Kilkenny the pre-eminent modern hurling power. Since his first year in 1957 when, by his own account, he reluctantly agreed to take on the team, Kilkenny have won 20 All-Irelands, whereas Cork and Tipperary have managed 11 and 10 respectively.
The 13 that weren’t won under Maher’s baton were all conducted by his apprentices; every single successful manager, including Cody, had played for him in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s – a more direct and fruitful legacy than even Kevin Heffernan’s in Dublin football.
The Godfather of Modern Hurling – the Fr Tommy Maher story by Enda McEvoy (Ballpoint Press, €14.99) recounts the achievement.
In an age which future historians will have no difficulty in chronicling, such is the volume of publications detailing individuals and events, we sometimes forget how patchy the literature of the GAA was before the 1990s.
This is a terrific book, which illuminates a story and a personality about which surprisingly little has been told.