Kilkenny hurling domination may come and go but Cody is always there

Pioneer of ‘chasing, blocking, hooking’ strategy through to 16th All-Ireland final

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody celebrates at the final whistle of the  senior championship hurling semi-final in Croke Park on Saturday after his side’s 1-21 to 2-17 win over  Limerick. Photograph:    Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody celebrates at the final whistle of the senior championship hurling semi-final in Croke Park on Saturday after his side’s 1-21 to 2-17 win over Limerick. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

The All-Ireland semi-final was over and Brian Cody was doing his bit with the press. Kilkenny had come in as underdogs against the most physical side in the country and had flipped the tables on them. They had bounced into another All-Ireland final like it was their birthright and made everyone abashed for any doubts they may have carried into the weekend. When Cody spoke, the sense of satisfaction radiated from him like a force field.

“We had lads out there playing the very best in the country and we just worked and worked and worked,” Cody said. “In the end, it paid off. They have brilliant hurlers as well as being strong. But in that second half, we had lads just chasing and chasing, blocking, hooking.

“We really worked to make it happen. I wouldn’t want to go picking individuals but they were out there playing a wonderful team today and, yes, they did really well.”

You work, then you work some more, then you work like you’ve only started and then you hurl the lugs off the other crowd

Two nights ago? Nope. Try two decades. The quotes above are from the Kilkenny dressing room in August 1999, after Cody’s Kilkenny had beaten Clare to make it to his first All-Ireland final as a manager. He was a slightly different presence back then – he cracked a gag near the end to the effect that he was going to retire immediately. Go out at the top, kind of thing. That’s 20 – yes, twenty – years ago.

Striking, isn’t it, how the song remains the same? It doesn’t matter that oceans have flowed under the bridge in the meantime. Or that hurling has shapeshifted beyond all recognition over the years. Kilkenny beat Clare that day by 2-14 to 1-13, a 36-point combined total that was passed by both semi-finals this weekend with 25 minutes to go. Cork beat them in the 1999 All-Ireland final with a score of just 0-13. All four sides this weekend had that on the board inside the first 37 minutes.

Yet here’s Cody, back in another showpiece. Still ineffably, unmistakably, immortally Cody. Everything he was preaching as a rookie manager back in 1999 is everything that defined Kilkenny’s riotous 1-21 to 2-17 win over Limerick on Saturday night. Chasing, blocking, hooking, really working to make it happen.

Didactic credo

Every fad that has come and gone and come again has found its answer in the same didactic credo. You work, then you work some more, then you work like you’ve only started and then you hurl the lugs off the other crowd.

And now he’s through to his 16th All-Ireland final. He has faced 12 different managers on hurling’s biggest day and this will be the third time he has Liam Sheedy just down the sideline from him. The list of names of former final opponents who have their feet up or are working on their handicap while he powers on is startling when you think about it. Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Pat Fleury, Cyril Lyons, Donal O’Grady, John Allen, Richie Bennis. Cody is still Codying away without them.

Look, it’s either in a fella or it’s not. You can’t send out fellas there that you know in your heart and soul are never going to be able to do that

Sheedy began the decade tilting at him and will finish it doing the same. This will be the sixth time Kilkenny and Tipperary have met in the last 11 finals. Players come and go, they dip and soar and nobody togs out for every game. But other than a couple of matches in the late spring of 2013 which he sat out after heart surgery, Cody is always there.

And he is never more there than when Kilkenny are that instantly recognisable pumping, thumping thing that knocked Limerick backwards on Saturday night. The names change, the faces change, the Codyness lives on. TJ Reid took man of the match but it could just as easily have gone to Pádraig Walsh or Adrian Mullen. The last time Kilkenny lost an All-Ireland semi-final, Mullen was five years old. In Croke Park on Saturday, he scored four points from play on top of a night of breakneck work around the half-forward line.

Deep thinker

None of this is to say that Cody is a monomaniac. He is, whatever affectations he likes to put about the place, clearly a deep thinker on the game. The old canard about Kilkenny not doing tactics has long been routed and Cody even brought up the T-word unbidden himself afterwards. The way they set traps for Nickie Quaid’s puck-outs, especially in the opening half, was a sight to see.

But underpinning everything is all the same stuff as he was telling hurlers 20 years ago.

“It was a question of everybody applying themselves to whatever responsibility they had and all the players took responsibility,” he said on Saturday. “Because individually, all the Limerick players are capable and give great leadership and have done so many times so it was a question of knuckling down and applying ourselves. We had that in abundance throughout the field and had there been any slackness from anybody, it was going to be damaging for us the way the game went.

“Look, it’s either in a fella or it’s not. You can’t send out fellas there that you know in your heart and soul are never going to be able to do that. The basic thing is you go out with total honesty first of all. You can talk about all the other things you like, essentially they’re in the county panel first of all because they’re well able to hurl, they’re good hurlers, they have plenty of skill and all the rest of it. And then it’s the application they bring and the honesty they bring and the sense of team they bring.”

Application. Honesty. Sense of team.

He’ll never die, obviously, but on the off-chance the Grim Reaper gets lucky sometime, it wouldn’t make for a bad line on a headstone.

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