A lot of surprise results can look more explicable in retrospect, especially the few over the years that have involved Kilkenny beating expectations. Although he projects indifference on this, you sense Brian Cody particularly enjoys shattering preconceptions he tends to feel are unfounded.
“I don’t think any team, any players, any management team are concerned about who the favourites are because favouritism goes out the window when the whistle blows.”
So it was on Saturday. Clare, trailing big hopes after topping the Munster round-robin and dragging Limerick to the brink in the provincial final, simply didn’t arrive. The struggled to score and were subject to death by multiple cuts as Kilkenny whipped the rapier across them unrelentingly.
The 1-17 conceded by half-time couldn’t, however, be simply ascribed to Clare’s shortcomings. Kilkenny posted just one wide and converted all their frees.
Asked did it rank with the best of performances during his management, he was pleased but suitably generic in reply. “There’s no doubt about it, it was a very, very good display for sure, yeah. You’d be very happy if you get the first-half display for a full game, anytime.”
The mood turned a little more acerbic when he was asked about one of the summer’s abiding themes: the high-profile intensity of the Munster championship compared with its lacklustre Leinster equivalent, which had been one of the major exhibits testifying Clare’s favouritism.
“I don’t enter into discussions that are brought about by people who know more than I do. There are geniuses out there who understand exactly the qualities of the various counties. I wouldn’t be capable of analysing it like that.”
So why did Clare so spectacularly fail to meet expectations when Kilkenny were giving incomparably their best display of the championship?
“I wouldn’t comment at all on what Clare were doing. I just have absolute respect for what they’ve done this year and they’ll be disappointed obviously with today. But they’re a wonderful team and they applied themselves magnificently as well, they didn’t stop fighting until the last second of the game.”
He did though have a view as to why his team had improved so much.
“Up to the Leinster final we were playing more or less every week, which gives limited time – no time, really – for training.
“We have great emphasis on our panel at all times so that gave a chance to everyone on the panel to get out there and work for the team, to put their hands up to make a claim for a starting place.
“I know everyone wants to talk about a settled team, but I make clear that I’m only interested in a settled panel, everyone fighting for their place and knowing if we put them on – who knows what team we’ll pick for the next day, but it’s whatever team we pick is the right team to pick.
“It’s about having that absolute spirit in the whole panel, where everybody respects everybody else’s opportunity – that if they earn the right to play, they should play.”
Among the outstanding performances, TJ Reid was back to his best and impeccable with the placed ball. Whereas that had been a lifeline in the Leinster final, this weekend it was the platform for destruction.
At the other end, Tony Kelly, Clare’s wizard for the past three seasons, had his powers drastically curtailed, partly by the malaise that settled on the team, but also because of the marking performance of Kilkenny’s much praised new defender.
“Mikey Butler did a very good job,” said his manager for whom personal testimonials are generally anathema. “He’s a young lad in the team and he’s been performing very, very well for us. Definitely.”