The best players, the ones who make the difference when it matters, prove themselves at club level and not necessarily on the inter-county stage.
Once a player gives his all to his club, he can have what it takes to be a successful county hurler Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, insisted.
The James Stephens man has always placed the club at the core of everything. He put the club player right in the heart of things when looking forward to Sunday’s All-Ireland senior final against Tipperary.
During the Kilkenny All-Ireland final press night, Cody was asked how quickly he could see that a player had what he wanted?
“Your attitude to the club is fundamental to everything,” he opened. “I think you’ve earned your right to be a county player with what you do with your club. That has to be your opportunity.
“If the person is not going to give it for his club, it doesn’t mean you have to be outstanding in every match, but as long as you’re a leader, you’re giving yourself a chance to be an inter-county player. You are what you are.
“If you have that instinct to get out and perform, to have a real commitment to give 100% at all times, it comes through very quickly. You can also influence players to give more.
“You can see the raw material there, and you can get players to improve on that even more than they even thought they were capable of.”
In a wide ranging interview, the answers flowed off the tongue of the relaxed Kilkenny boss. Here’s the man in his own words.
Cody on - quarter-finals for provincial finalists.
“I’ve no real thoughts on it. You take on whatever challenge is in front of you. It’s not for me to decide what kind of a structure is in place for the championship. We’ll settle every year for being Leinster champions and getting in to the All Ireland semi-final. And we have also had to go the other route, so I don’t have any strong thoughts on it.
“We wanted to win the Leinster final. We wanted to get to the All-Ireland semi-final. If we hadn’t won the Leinster final, we would have had to go the other route.”
Cody on - the work to be done after the championship defeat by Cork last year.
“There’s always work. Even when you win the All-Ireland final, as happened previously, there’s work to be done for the following year. We didn’t perform to a terrific level at any stage last year. Our hurling didn’t ever really flow. We dug out some great results. The spirit was as good as ever.
“The attitude was excellent, but we weren’t flowing from a hurling point of view. And when that’s happening you are going to find it very difficult. We were knocked out by Cork. As the weeks and months go by you’ll be looking at things and seeing where we are with the team and the panel.
“You always like to strengthen things. There are always a few players on your radar. You might say ‘that fella’s going well’ and you bring him in and see where you go.”
Cody on - did Kilkenny learn anything from Clare last year.
“Absolutely not. Every time somebody wins the All-Ireland final, everybody talks about ‘this is it’, as if hurling has changed forever. I never see it that way. I have been asked that many times since the All-Ireland final last year like suddenly we have a new game on our hands. I never bought into that.
“I have seen that happen over the years where suddenly this is now the way to be hurling. As far as I’m concerned, there is no gospel. We don’t have the gospel, and nobody else has the gospel either. There’s players that play the game and you try and get players to play to their strengths. Different players have different strengths.
“Different players make up different teams and therefore the team acquires different strengths. You try and play the game that will suit you. Regardless of the great tactics you might face, the game takes on a life of it’s own. I don’t think the fundamentals ever change.”
Cody on - how much trust you place in the players.
“Obviously you trust the players implicitly. The players have to react to whatever situation develops on the field. The biggest plan you have is to get the team to play to the maximum of its ability and to works very, very hard and do the basics well. You want to give your team the opportunity to go and play with a bit of fluency, and a bit of freedom. You have got to trust your players.”
Cody on - the last quarter of the semi-final against Limerick.
“Worried? Was I sure we were going to win? I wasn’t. You can call that worry or whatever. I knew we were in a huge battle. I thought it was a terrific contest. It was a really, really intense place to be for everybody concerned. It was a game that could obviously have gone either way.
“I think we were tested in a massive way. Limerick were excellent. I thought our response was excellent. Obviously the two goals were hugely important, but equally as important was the refusal to give in. The tackling, the chasing, hooking and blocking. All of those things were of a very high quality from both teams.”
Cody on - what goes through his mind at such times.
“You don’t have any huge influence on the match. You can make a switch. It might work and it might not. Other than that the game goes by very quickly. It goes this way and that. You trust the players on the field. You trust those that come in, and it takes on a life of its own. It pans out on the field.
“You’re there and you have a huge responsibility to ensure that the attitude is good. And your job is pretty much done before you get out on the field I think.”
Cody on - does he feel alone standing on the sideline during those times.
“No. I don’t ever feel crushed by the pressure. Those thoughts don’t come in to it at all. That’s the position I’ve assumed. The team manager stands on that sideline and the game unfolds in front of your eyes.
“If it scares you, you’re in the wrong place. You don’t have a huge influence while it’s happening, that’s for sure. But at the same time you have to have a presence there that does contribute in whatever way it can.”
Cody on - the Cork versus Tipperary semi-final.
“It was very different from the point of view it was very clear that Tipperary were going to win from 15 minutes in, at least. They probably looked like winners from before that as well. They were obviously very impressive. Coming in to the game, it was being looked upon as a 50/50 game.
“It was a difficult one to call. But Tipperary were comprehensive winners. Cork are a quality team. They have proven that. They’re Munster champions. So the fact that Tipp won convincingly shows the quality they have.”
Cody on - Michael Fennelly’s back trouble.
“Obviously Michael has that on-going problem and we are very much aware of his situation. A huge amount of work has been put into it by the medical team trying to get Michael healthy again. He came through the semi-final very strongly.
“He has missed a lot of competitive action and a huge amount of hurling training. But he has been working away within the realms of what he could do all along. He’s a naturally very fit fella and we are hoping that he will be injury free for the final.
“As regards him being picked or not picked, we will have to decide that. He couldn’t have been picked for the Limerick game if he hadn’t got back in time to prepare for the game. He played against Offaly but he has had on-going trouble since then. It’s going back a few years as well. He had a tough time last year. He’s put huge time and commitment into trying to get himself into shape.”
Cody on - what game stands out in the Tipperary/Kilkenny rivalry.
“I don’t tend to look too much upon things like that. We’ve played a hell of a lot of games over the years with various counties, and a lot of great ones against Tipperary. We have met in big games, in All-Ireland semi-finals, League finals, quarter-finals and last year in the Qualifiers.
“Even going back to this year’s National League final, we won by a point after extra-time. They have been seriously close matches. All of them have contributed hugely to hurling. The one that stands out to me right now is the next one.”
Cody on - the most satisfying game.
“Any one that we won really.”
Cody on - are Kilkenny now Tipp’s bogey team.
“No, I don’t think there are bogey teams. Tipperary, Kilkenny, all the hurling counties are capable on any given day of beating the other team. It’s about whichever team gets it right on the day. They could beat us, we could beat them. We want to beat them. They want to beat us. The better team on the day is going to win, and that’s it.”
Cody on - Kilkenny getting back into the All-Ireland final.
“Any year you get to the All-Ireland there is huge satisfaction involved. A lot of people are talking about the fact we weren’t in it last year, it must be great this year. I don’t see it that way. You earn the right to be in the All-Ireland final every year.
“We didn’t earn that right last year. We wanted to earn that right this year, not because we couldn’t do it last year, but because it’s this year and the All-Ireland is there to be won.”
Cody on - Henry Shefflin having 70 minutes in him.
“There’s certainly 70 minutes in him, 73 or 74. He most certainly has it. He is in terrific shape. There’s no doubt about that.”
Cody on - Shefflin being a sub.
“I don’t think along those lines at all. The team picked will be the best team to start. Whoever comes on, comes on. Obviously there’s huge speculation about Henry. That’s understandable. His career has lent itself to that.
“From our point of view, we have a panel of players and there’s no player in a different category from anybody else. That’s the way it has to be from a panel point of view. Nobody appreciates that more than Henry.”