KILKENNY hurling manager, Brian Cody, may be in his 14th season in the hot seat during which he has gone through the highs and lows of 61 demanding senior championship matches, but the lure of the game and the keenness for the chase remain as strong as ever, writes John Knox.
And anyone who thinks he is going anywhere is out by the side of it.
“There will come a day when I won’t be doing this, and maybe I will lose whatever there is to lose for it,” he said when asked for his feelings after being so long on the road. “Right now, right now I am happy enough.”
Ah, but when it came to talking about the game, the game of hurling that has gripped him as boy and man he was positively bubbling with enthusiasm.
The game, the game
“The game is the thing,” he said as his face all but lit up with excitement when talking at the Kilkenny press briefing before the All-Ireland hurling final replay. “Why do players enjoy this thing? Why do people get animated, excited and passionate? It is because the product is something exceptional. It is unique.
“It is unique to Ireland, obviously; it is part and parcel of Kilkenny and many counties. Some have the privilege of being successful. Others don’t enjoy that privilege but they see it as something they love doing and they continue to play and take part in competitions knowing they will never win the McCarthy Cup. They have a fascination and addiction to the game. That is exactly what the game is.
“It is by far, by far the most exciting and best game in the world. I say by far, and I have met people from other sports who would say that there is absolutely nothing like watching a good game of hurling. These are top players form many other sports. They are fascination by the game, as we all are.”
A burden - you must be joking
Could you imagine an existence without it, he was asked?
“There isn’t one,” he smiled.
And anyone who felt coping with the additional demands of preparing for an All-Ireland final replay at the end of an already demanding season was a burden for either county involved didn’t understand the thinking of the competitive athlete, or those who loved the involvement in sport, he suggested.
“Anyone who feels sorry for Kilkenny and Galway are misguided,” he assured. “They are in the All-Ireland final. Look at all the counties who would love to be in the positoin they are in? There are seven or eight strong hurling counties who would give anything to be in this position. If it takes six months to have this game played, the sense of anticipation and excitement about being involved is savage.”
However, he admitted there was a strange feeling when the final whistle sounded in Croke Park nearly three weeks ago and nothing was decided in real terms, apart from the fact that the first replayed final since 1959 was on the cards.
“The last day is done and dusted,” he added. “It is forgotten, if you like.”
For all the various experiences Kilkenny have gone through in his time, a replayed All-Ireland final wasn’t one of them. He allowed the players room to work out their own feelings and thoughts about the drawn match, and the replay.
“Both teams were probably thinking they probably almost had it,” he said when he referred to the 0-19 (K) to 2-13 draw. “Playeres react differently. They are all individuals. You don’t try and take that individual thing out of them and think lads, this is the way it has to be, we all have to think like this. You let them think as they think.
“It is the same in the build up to any game. You don’t say lads you have to do this. I tell them to go out and be yourself, bring yourself to the game. They all realised very quickly that we didn’t lose, that there was a repaly in three weeks time. The opposition will be the same. The want and desire to win by both sides will be absolute, so you go away and prepare.”
How much has been learned?
But how much have Kilkenny learned about Galway’s style of play, a style that helped the westerners storm to a 10-point victory in the Leinster final and caused difficulties too in the All-Ireland final draw?
“All teams bring their own style to the game,” the James Stephens clubman suggested. “Galway have brought their particular style this year. There is a huge amount of movement in their forwards and a huge amount of changing and adaptability.
“The reason that is there is because they are all very, very good and adaptable players. They are all capable of playing in so many different positions. We are similar. At the end of the day it is 15 against 15 no matter how you match it up, no matter what kind of shape you want to put on the teams.
“It is about every player going out to perform as best as he possibly can. Regardless of whether you are playing 60 or 10 yards form goal the challenge to get the ball is the very same.”
If, he said, people were wondering what he thought about Galway generally, the wonder to him was why they haven’t been knocking on the All-Ireland door on a more regular basis. Afterall, he added, they have been producing rich talent at all levels for years.
“They haven’t come out of the blue, that suddenly Galway are a good team,” said the former inter-county star. “They were always good. They are hugely competitive and they present a massive challenge for everyone.
“Kilkenny are under no illusions. We know Galway want this All-Ireland title as badly as we do. They are top line athletes, as we are. They have a top quality management team.
“People spoke about Galway being a young team and what it was going to be like facing into their first final. That sort of thing can go any way, inspire you or whatever. Galway have been through the All-Ireland experience now. Does it make them better? It is certainly not a burden, but the replay, like any game, will take on a life of its own during the 70 minutes.
“How the players respond during that time will decide all, not what experience anyone has, what you have achieved in the past or anything like that. Once the ball is thrown-in you place your trust in the players, and the contest is theirs.”