WHETHER or not the shadow of Brian Cody loomed large over Nowlan Park on Sunday, the manager need not have worried - everything was running smoothly.
Selectors Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey have had extra work to contend with in Cody’s enforced absence - not least dealing with the media side of the game - but both seemed content in Kilkenny’s 2-17 to 0-20 win over Tipperary, a result which brought the county a second successive national hurling league title.
“We’re delighted with the win, especially after such a competitive match,” Fogarty remarked at the end of titanic afternon. “It went down to the wire, tested all the lads but they stuck with it. That’s what these games are about, so we’re delighted they got the result for the efforts they put in.”
The point was made to the Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) man about how Kilkenny had turned their fortunes around after two opening losses in the competition, but even in defeat he found some positives to take away.
“When people talk about where we were at the start of the league we forget that we were hurling well then,” he said. “We got beaten by three points (Galway 3-11 to 0-17) and a point (Tipp 2-17 to 1-19) so we were happy with those matches because the lads played well but just came out the wrong side of those two games.
“The third game against Waterford was similar in its toughness while we won out against Clare by a point. We were happy with the effort of the lads in all the games, so to get to the semi-final and the final was a bonus. To win it was an extra bonus.”
Even the absences of Henry Shefflin and T.J. Reid to long-term injuries were spun into a plus by Fogarty, as it gave more players the chance to shine.
“It’s great if you get the opportunity to use a good few players like we did this year,” he said. “We had injuries and it gave us the chance to do that. On the other hand, if you hadn’t injuries you might be inclined to go out with the tried and tested. From that point of view it worked out well for us as we got to blood a few players.
“You have to focus on what you have,” Fogarty continued. “There’s no point in looking at players that you don’t have as that’s being negative. You have to be positive - we would always have confidence in the full panel and we feel that any player can step into the breach and do the job on any given day.”
While the game came in for great praise Fogarty was not so sure about the red cards handed out to J.J. Delaney and Lar Corbett.
“The two lads got sent off for harmless stuff which was a pity,” he said. “I hate seeing players put off - unless it’s a really bad act I don’t think it should be happening. When you’re playing at such a level and there’s so much at stake lads get tied up in each other. There’s no malice in these lads.”
While speaking to Fogarty kitman Denis ‘Rackard’ Cody walked off in the background with the trophy in hand, almost if to pack it away. The league was done and dusted; now the championship looms - but not before some local commitments.
“The focus will be on the two rounds of club games coming up over the next fortnight,” Fogarty finished. “After that it’s back to tune in for Offaly. We will have to all guns blazing if we are to compete with them - they’ll want to have a good crack at us and we’ll have to be ready.”
That sentiment was echoed by Michael Dempsey who, happy to win the final, was looking at future challenges.
“It’s great to win the league,” he said. “Under Brian you try to win every game but that competition is over now. We can enjoy it, but it’s the championship that really matters. That’s where our focus will have to be very soon.”
Mentioning the manager like that showed just how much of a presence Cody still has in the camp.
“Brian is brilliant at his job and was a huge loss, but the lads have been around for a long time,” said Dempsey. “They’re conscious of the fact that they need to be on their toes. While their own motivation is important - they want to win - in the back of their heads they would have been doing it for Brian.”
There were plenty who stepped up to the mark, not least Michael Fennelly, who gave a Man of the Match display in the forward lines, scoring 2-3.
“Richie Power and Walter Walsh were missing, so we needed a person of stature in attack,” said Dempsey. “Michael Fennelly came up trumps in the first half and had a good game overall, so it worked out. He’s well able to get forward and is very athletic.
“The goals were two fantastic efforts but he’s capable of that - he got a fantastic point against Cork here in the group stages from about 50/60 metres out while under pressure. We’re happy that the move worked out today.”
Being able to move Fennelly into the forward lines highlighted the options Kilkenny had, even with their injuries.
“It’s the collective,” he said. “Everybody has given their all and has the right attitude.
“Playing for the team is the hallmark of the team,” he added. “There are different indivuduals and personalities, but I think that what creates the team and gets us the results is the collective approach. We were really tested by Tipp, but all the players stood up and did what was asked of them.”