Twenty league campaigns is the sort of punishment a man could only choose for himself. If you were a tinpot dictator handing down that sort of chokey in a fit of pique some afternoon, Amnesty International would be on your ass by teatime. Yet there's Brian Cody, still chugging on through another winter's hurling, long after profit and popularity have gone wandering elsewhere.
In Nowlan Park on Sunday, his Kilkenny team was so desperately ordinary that Clare could afford to shoot 18 wides and still have three points to spare in the end. By my count, Clare had 44 shots at the posts across the afternoon, which is a full 10 more than Cork managed at home in the league opener the previous Saturday. Kilkenny lost both games and have only Waterford below them on points difference in Division 1A this morning.
Sometimes you look at Cody and wonder why. Why is he still at it? What possible itch is it still scratching in him? Twenty springs filled with bad pitches, rusty striking and referees still a few pounds off their target weight. Twenty Februarys – and this year, a January, for the love of God – of putting up with the hack horseshoe afterwards, batting back our asinine questions as if he had nothing better to be at.
You know those adverts for mattresses that delight in telling you that you’ll spend 19 years or whatever of your life in bed? You look at Cody sometimes and you wonder has he ever in a moment’s figary tried to work out how long he’s spent semi-circled by press folk. When we finished with him yesterday, one of the local lads asked him for a quick extra word. “Thirty seconds,” Cody said, walking around the corner with him. They all add up.
Sunday was his 225th league and championship game in charge – if we low-ball it and say he spends 10 minutes after each game between newspapers, radio and TV, it works out at 37 hours and 30 minutes. That’s over a day and a half of this man’s life that has been spent exchanging post-match banalities alone. A day and a half! No wonder he wanted to kill Marty Morrissey that time.
Cody gonna Cody. He gave one of the most Brian Cody answers in many a long year when someone gently suggested that in the absence of some big names – you know, TJ Reid, Richie Hogan, Paul Murphy, Conor Fogarty, Colin Fennelly and the like – there's probably no big call for panic on February 4th.
“Well, I mean, big names – what big names are big names?” Cody replied. “At the end of the day you’ve got to get out there and play on the day. You can never legislate for what might happen in the future. You can only deal with what happened today and how it went and everything else. Everybody that was out there was fully intent on trying to hold on to a jersey. And some fellas did themselves a lot of good.
“Any time you go out, you’re not experimenting because who is to say who will play in the championship anyway? The fellas on the field today were the Kilkenny senior hurling team and that’s it.”
That’s it, exactly. For all that it caused a modicum of stir last week, the idea that Kilkenny’s lot would be improved in Cody’s absence got its answer against Clare. No cow should be so sacred that it can’t be questioned but to anyone watching them yesterday it was pretty obvious that their problem isn’t outside the whitewash.
Right at this minute, they have a dearth of intercounty-class players. This is Kilkenny so it won’t always be that way – it may not even be when the aforementioned quintet are back in harness. But with what is at the manager’s disposal just now, struggle is inevitable.
There was an almost comedy murmur in the stands against Clare when Cody sent on his second and third subs in what was still only the 25th minute. In times of plenty, Cody’s sparing hand with the substitutes slip always felt a little bit pointed, like a millionaire insisting his kids worked a paper round.
In that regard, the 2015 All-Ireland was the apogee of Ye Have To Earn The Jersey, Lads, with Cody guiding Kilkenny to Liam MacCarthy while only using three subs in total after the Leinster final. Here, he had that many sent in off the bench with 10 minutes still to go until half-time. One of them, Martin Keoghan, got their only point from play in first half injury-time.
In the stands, the Kilkenny public was only dying for some of them to make a run at it. Keoghan led the second-half fightback and finished with three points. Richie Leahy got around the place, took a few hits and popped a score. James Maher took one almighty catch and won a free off it to great yahooing from the bleachers. On a day when Kilkenny had little enough to show by way of rhythm or slickness or any of that summer stuff, all the Nowlan Park crowd really wanted was a few players with their paws in the sky, coming down with the ball.
They know. And though he’d never say it in public, Cody must know too. Though he has always preached the gospel of No Big Names, he’s seen enough middling hurlers down the decades to know the worth of a good one. Or, more crucially, a batch of good ones coming along at the same time.
In Kilkenny, that will happen more often that it will elsewhere and Cody knows that too. A man who will put up with a day and a half of post-match press duties in his life certainly knows the value of patience.