Brian Cody leading his Kilkenny to familiar ground
10th final in 13 seasons sees a return to Semple Stadium for current title holders
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody watches his side beat Galway in the National Hurling League Division One semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.
Even if they’re surrendering home advantage this time round there is nothing unfamiliar about Kilkenny’s presence in another Allianz Hurling League final. A 10th appearance in 13 seasons qualifies as purely habitual.
Confirmation that this year’s showdown against Tipperary on Sunday week – May 4th – has been fixed for Semple Stadium in Thurles was greeted as perfectly routine, too: last year’s final, which saw Kilkenny record a three-point victory over Tipperary, was played in Nowlan Park, and so the home-away arrangement between the counties has this time swung back in Tipperary’s advantage.
“The fact is we played it in Nowlan Park last year, so it’s Semple Stadium this time,” said Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn. “That would have been known in advance, and we’re perfectly happy with that. We knew going into Sunday’s game (against Galway) that if it was Tipp that came through the other semi-final (against Clare) then we were going to Thurles, yeah.”
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody won’t have any issues with Semple Stadium, either. Sunday’s semi-final win over Galway – 1-16 to 0-15 – means Cody has now taken Kilkenny to 10 hurling league finals during his 16 seasons in charge. With the first of those finals in 2002, it’s actually more like 10 finals in 13 seasons – with Cody’s team winning seven out of those previous nine.
That includes the 2012 final victory over Cork and the 2009 final victory over Tipperary – both of which were also played in Semple Stadium. Kilkenny also recorded league final victories over Limerick in Semple Stadium (in 2006) and Clare (in 2005), with Cody’s first league title with Kilkenny, the 2002 victory over Cork, also played in Thurles. The only time Cody’s team wasn’t successful in a league final played in Semple Stadium was in 2007, when they lost to Waterford by two points.
Now, this record of 10 league finals in 13 seasons – combined with his record of 12 All-Ireland finals in the previous 15 seasons – has dispelled any remaining doubt that Cody might not be up to the task of reinventing, if not reinvigorating, this Kilkenny team.
If his team do defeat Tipperary on Sunday week it will also mark a first three-in-a-row of league titles under Cody: Waterford denied them that run in 2007, and while Kilkenny also lost the 2011 league final to Dublin, this is already the first time that Cody’s team has made four league finals in succession.
Still, progressing to this year’s league final was possibly the least expected of Cody’s long reign – given the strong sense of reconstruction that surrounded his team coming into 2014, on the back of their ultimately disappointing end to 2013.
The two most obvious newcomers are defenders Pádraig Walsh and Brian Kennedy, the other changes from this time last year being Shefflin’s return, along with TJ Reid, Walter Walsh, John Power and Mark Kelly.
“Whether they’re young faces or old faces or there a while or there a short time, the panel is the panel and places are up for grabs,” noted Cody after Sunday’s win.