Cats respect all, but they only think about winning

Richie Hogan (Kilkenny) is challenged by Daithi Burke (Galway) during the Senior Hurling Leinster Final in Croke Park. (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
Brian Cody sits utterly relaxed, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The mood is light, the chat interspersed with a bit of banter.

Brian Cody sits utterly relaxed, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The mood is light, the chat interspersed with a bit of banter.

There is some fuss in the ballroom of Langton’s Hotel, but not in his space.

The James Stephens man is in a familiar place. The All-Ireland senior hurling final is just around the corner, and is top of the agenda. Facing into involvement for the 14th time in his 17 seasons in charge as Kilkenny manager, he knows the routine.

It is press night for the All-Ireland champions; a talking shop of sorts. In terms of organisation and execution, well versed Kilkenny are champions of detail, the boss a champion ambassador.

There was a preamble about the appetite of the players and so on, with the boss insisting that if players hadn’t hunger or drive, he couldn’t put it into them.

“The players are massively motivated and driven. We are in the All-Ireland final.”

In Cody/Kilkenny speak, that says it all. Ten times champions during his time, and the core values never vary. Serious self assessment. Deadly attention to detail. Planning, planning, planning.

The desire is always to have Kilkenny hurling in September. The alternative has no great appeal.

“The aim is to do everything possible that you can do to get where you want to be, in the All-Ireland final,” was the all embracing review of the season to date.

He was straight up. Twelve days before the big clash with Galway it was impossible to knows if everyone in the Kilkenny camp would be fit. One thing he did know - everyone would be given every chance to make the team and match day panel.

“We will have who we will have,” he said of the yet to be finalised squad that will do duty on the day. “The players we will have have been involved in our preparations all year, so they will be ready.”

There was a training camp in Foto Island recently, so we wondered about that.

“Regardless of where we train, the same things apply,” he insisted. “The players prepare as best they possibly can. The preparations are top class.”

But how does he and the management team keep doing it, keep themselves and the players bubbling with what appears to be endless enthusiasm?

“Instinctively I will know has everything been done that should have been done,” he replied when asked about the reflection at the end of each season. “Did the players perform? Were we as competitive as we should be? If we are, and we are a lot of the time, then you don’t crucify yourself.

“I will know instinctively if I have failed in any single way to do the job I should be doing. If I have, I will have a serious think about it for sure. We have been competitive. The attitude is good. The spirit is good and strong. Things just go on.”

There is constant self analysis, even in the winning years?

“We don’t do it in a major way,” he suggested. “We don’t have major think tanks or dissecting of it. Each of us would have our own thoughts. We would get together and talk about things alright.

“It is not as if it is this fantastic, magical way we have of doing something. We are guided by our instincts. Each of the lads, Mick (Dempsey), Derek (Lyng), James (McGarry) all have terrific instinct for what is involved and what is required; what worked well and what might work better. That is the way it works.”

Recently it was revealed that Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho had apparently said he could judge if a player had what he wanted after looking at him for 10 minutes in a match. Cody insisted they operated in different realms in sport and a comparison couldn’t be made, but a rush to judgement was never part of his agenda.

“We are delighted to have the players we have,” he said. “A player is never rushed. The feeling is that there is always tomorrow. There has to be. You have an instinct about a player and you bring him in and have a look at him, see how he goes. Some players come through very quickly. Some take more time.

“That is the way it always has been. You can’t force the development of a player. The development comes at different levels and speed. Your instinct dictates, really.”

And then we got to the match, and challengers Galway, who Kilkenny beat in the Leinster final and the last time the counties met in the All-Ireland (2012), when it went to a replay.

“They are serious opposition,” he said in a respectful tone. “They are every year. Every year you think who could win the All-Ireland, and absolutely Galway would be on the list. They are a top team.

“It is amazing they haven’t won an All-Ireland since 1988. I don’t go along with the reasoning that they are more aggressive this year. We played them in the Leinster final in 2012 and they wiped us in Croke Park with hurling, and with ferocious drive and every aspect of the game you like to see in any team.

“They drew with us in the All-Ireland final. We won the replay but three games in the one year and one win for each county and one draw. Thanks be to God we won the final. Galway are full of very, very good hurlers.

“Since the Leinster final, which to me was a really serious game, they have gone on and completely dominated Cork. That game was over very early. The semi-final against Tipp had everything. It was a brilliant game.

“They suffered serious setbacks here and there from the point of view of conceding three goals and the fact the same player scored the three goals. That can be even more difficult to deal with because you begin to think there is no end to this fellow.

“Galway showed great composure, great trust, belief and confidence in themselves. After each setback they hit back for a couple of scores. The last three points were brilliant points.

“Jason Flynn got one heading out towards the sideline. It was a brilliant point. Padraic Maher won a great ball but was hooked as he attempted to clear. A Galway man won the ball, bang, over the bar.

“Joe Canning then won a ball - he can score from just about anywhere - but he showed a cool head, picked out a player in space, Shane Moloney, to shoot the winning score. It was super way to finish a game; a lovely way to go into an All-Ireland final. Galway have serious momentum.

“Look, you can say that is me talking up Galway, but its not. That is what happened. I always feel the same about Galway. I always feel they are serious opposition.”

Kilkenny’s challenge against defensive minded Waterford was different in their semi-final. That clash was never likely to be as open or as free flowing as the Galway/Tipp tie.

“The games unfolded as they did,” Cody continued. “You can never anticipate exactly what is going to happen. I suppose with the Waterford game it was predictable from the point of view that Waterford had a particular style all season and they were going to stick with it.

“You couldn’t be certain of that, however. They played as they played. They play their game very well, and they make things very, very difficult for the opposition. It took us a long time to beat them, but at the end of the day, we got to where we wanted to get.

“The Galway/Tipp game was frantic end to end stuff; magnificent, played out in a terrific way. Galway got to where they wanted to get. They were different games. The outcome was all important.”

Ah yes, but Galway’s new busy, busy style of play looks a lot like the ‘Action Man’ game Kilkenny have perfected.

Cody took up the hint: “We work very hard. That is what all teams strive to do. That is the essence of team sport; every player makes the best contribute possible to the team effort. That’s when you have a real team.

“All teams strive to do that. How well each team does it on any given day depends on getting everything right; what the players bring to the table; how they cope with the opposition. That challenge is there all the time. What will happen the next day remains to be seen.”

But Kilkenny can play that pressing game better than anyone else!

“I don’t know do we, but whatever we have done before is gone, done and dusted,” came the response. “It will have no bearing on what we will do the next day. Our challenge is to get everything right and finish ahead of Galway. Their challenge is to do that to us.

“Are Galway capable of beating us? They are. Are we capable of beating Galway? I think we are. Some days they will win, others we will. The only important day is the next day.”

So, another year, another final. How relaxed is he about it all?

“I am fine,” he beamed. “I am completely relaxed. The All-Ireland final is a savage place to be. If you couldn’t enjoy it - maybe some people don’t, I don’t know - what can you enjoy? I always enjoy it. It is where you want to be. The alternative is you are looking at someone playing in the All-Ireland final.

“That can be enjoyable too if you weren’t thinking that maybe we should be there. Look, it is a great time. It is something I enjoy. I feel relaxed.”

Would the same be true of the players?

“The challenge is the same for them as in all matches that went before. It is a bigger occasion, yeah. But once the referee blows the whistle, on you go. You do your job for the team. Players get into their own zone of thinking this is where I want to be. There is no better place in the world, and I think they appreciate that.”