Brian Cody’s creed proves key to Kilkenny reaching final goal

Kilkenny have qualified for playoffs for 15th time during Cody’s 18-year tenure

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody: “There has to be a sense that everyone can make this team.” Photograph: Inpho

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody: “There has to be a sense that everyone can make this team.” Photograph: Inpho

 

Although Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League semi-finals in Thurles feature two counties from Division One B for the first time the most striking statistic is Kilkenny’s qualification for the playoffs for a 15th time during Brian Cody’s 18 years in charge.

The only years that the county failed to progress beyond the divisional stages were last year when injuries and Ballyhale’s run in the club All-Ireland weakened the available panel and Kilkenny were involved in the relegation play-off against Clare, 2004 and 2010.

In the latter year the final was contested by the top two teams in the division and Kilkenny finished fourth, which would be sufficient under the current structure for a county to progress.

During these 18 years Kilkenny have won eight league titles; in other words if they win this year’s as they are favourites to do, that will mean on Cody’s watch the county will have won exactly half of the titles on offer.

Attitude

Experimentation is also measured. Emerging players are always going to stand a better chance of fulfilling their potential being introduced in small numbers into an already successful team.

Thirteen years ago Kilkenny retained the league title, the second one of Cody’s management, having won the NHL-All-Ireland double the previous year – a feat they would repeat later in 2003.

After defeating Tipperary in an unusual final – 10 goals, played on the May bank holiday in Croke Park – Cody celebrated the undiminished hunger of the team despite all that had been won in the previous 12 months rather than the silverware.

“I was certain positive it was there in the panel,” he said of the appetite on display. “You don’t know from day to day who’ll end up playing. They are all on the panel because they are skilful players. Ally that to honesty, guts and ambition.

“Today I learned there is a ferocious will to go on and win things there. The most reassuring thing is that when their backs are to the wall they won’t turn around and try and get over that wall. They kept going.”

Kilkenny actually budget to reach a league final every three years and players are aware of that but the sharper motivation is the primacy of form in the county. Hurlers playing well know that they won’t be dropped as soon as championship comes around.

Proof of that can be seen in the manner in which the one-in-three target has been exceeded nearly twice over. Should Kilkenny defeat Clare on Sunday, the running record of reaching league finals will stand at one every 1.6 years.

And the global outcome has been 11 All-Irelands to go with the eight leagues.

In one of the most illuminating episodes of his management Cody gave a keynote address at the GAA’s 2007 National Games Development Conference. He briefly outlined his thoughts on the topic, “Maintaining peak performance and squad cohesion during the course of a season”.

It reads like a manifesto for all up-and-coming players, prioritising focused and whole-hearted involvement with an emphasis on the collective values of the panel rather than individual performance.

Respect

“There has to be a sense that everyone can make this team. The training ground has to be a place of opportunity.

“Everyone has to fight for their place; no one owns the jersey.

“Players who aren’t regulars very often can add hugely to the dressingroom. The dressingroom is a sacred place – fellas are dying to get into it. Let players be perceived as hurler of the year elsewhere, but not in the dressingroom.”

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