FRESH from seeing his side record their second win of the League campaign, it was perhaps not surprising that Kilkenny boss Brian Cody was in mischievous mood when he faced the press pack at Cusack Park.
A smile broke out when the question was put to him that, given Clare’s large number of wides, Kilkenny were perhaps a little lucky to get out of Ennis with a one-point win.
“I didn’t think we were lucky at all,” he said, then quipped “are you saying we were a little unlucky not to win by more?”
It was a relaxed conversation that played out in one corner of the winners’ dressing-room, but Cody didn’t believe that good fortune was the reason for Kilkenny’s success.
“We’re delighted to have won the match - I don’t think luck decides a game at all,” he said. “We have played four matches and people would say we played decently in the first two games but lost them, so you get to a stage where you have to try and win matches.
“Good performances would be grand, but if you end with no more points it’s not worth a curse to anybody,” he added. “The demand of the last two games was to win the games and to have four points at this stage of the league. We have that now, so hopefully we can drive things on a little further.”
A large part of Kilkenny’s drive to victory in Ennis came from the way the side remained calm when faced with strong competition from Clare. The Bannermen could have turned the game their way in the second half, but a rising number of wides led to disappointment.
“They had wides but that’s part and parcel of the pressure being put on them,” he said. “We had wides too - we didn’t take a lot of our opportunities, but that’s part of the game at this time of year.”
And the win means that the Cats have now earned two wins on the spin.
“It’s an improvement,” he said. “We’d lost two games and now we’ve won two. It’s a better situation to be in.”
Sunday’s win over Clare leaves Kilkenny in a good position heading into the final game of the group stages. Other results helped too, meaning there is still plenty to play for on Easter Sunday.
“Last Sunday we were bottom of the table,” he noted. “If we win next Sunday - and it’ll be a huge task to win - we could make the semi-finals.
“We’re getting an opportunity,” the manager added. “Our panel is being tested seriously. Our backs were to the wall so it was essential that we came out and beat Waterford and Clare. It was going to be tough to beat both of them, but we’ve done that. Now, we’ll see where we can go from here.”
Part of that success came with a full-back line which was far from what Kilkenny supporters were used to seeing.
“If you look back to the All-Ireland final that entire full-back line was out through injury,” he said. “Kieran Joyce had to go back and play full-back having featured at wing-back - that’s not a simple change to adjust to. Lads were being dragged about the place but the performances were good.”
Joyce’s transfer to the full-back line from the half-back ranks was part of a late call forced on Kilkenny following the withdrawal of J.J. Delaney.
“It was a late call,” Cody said of the Johnstown man’s absence. “He had a groin injury since Friday night. We came down to Ennis thinking it would be fine but it was still sore so weren’t going to risk him.”
Despite that, the panel came into play. The game, like the rest in Kilkenny’s campaign to date, gave Cody and selectors Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty the chance to test more players. Having had a look at plenty of players - the Cats have used 25 in their four games to date - the manager admitted he’s happy with how it’s gone.
“It’s an opportunity to look at these players - that’s what the League is about,” he said.
“The aim is to try and win it, of course, but you also want to give an opportunity to as many players as possible.
“Sometimes that comes through choice, sometimes your hand is forced - we’ve had a combination of both this year, certainly with the injuries we’ve had. We’ve had to look at plenty of players, but it’s been a great experience for them.”
Some of the newer guys have shone, among them Lester Ryan. His goal tipped the game in Kilkenny’s favour, as Clare had been impressive in the first half.
“The two goals were crucial - he took it very well from the point of view that his movement off the ball was good while the creation of the goal was very good with some combination play and we put it away. It was a crucial score, as was Taggy’s (Aidan Fogarty’s) in the second half. Both were vital.”
Of course, the reappearance of Michael Rice, one of the more established faces in the camp, was greeted with praise from supporters - and the management team.
“It was brilliant to see Michael back,” said Cody. “We could have held on to him and brought him in for the last 20 minutes, but we decided to start him and give him a little longer to see how he went.
“We knew his resolve from day one,” he said of the Carrickshock man. “Michael has been itching to get back for the last few weeks but it was a question of making sure everything was alright with him.
“Remember, he hasn’t played a club match or any kind of game since the All-Ireland semi-final in August,” Cody added. “It was a huge ask, but thankfully he came through it - that’s one of the most important things out of the day.”