Three men in the front line (from left) Kilkenny goalie Eoin Murphy, manager Brian Cody and defender Conor Fogarty
Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, is in his 21st year in the job and the county is richer by a magnificent 11 All-Ireland and nine National League titles in that time, but for him the game of hurling simply rolls on.
There was a beginning to his reign. Inevitably there will be an end, but while styles of play come and go, hurling and the job of management have remained largely the same, the James Stephens clubman suggested.
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Cody, as easy and relaxed as you could be, seemed a bit perplexed when asked what change or changes he had seen in the job when speaking at the Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling final press night in Langton’s Hotel.
“It is not even a job,” he replied when putting his role in context.
“It is what I do. The single biggest difference? I have no idea. People talk about the changes in young people and everything else. I don’t have any problem with that.
“I have been a primary teacher all my life and I have been dealing with younger teachers and children and involved with club players all my life. I have seen all these different things. I don’t find anything fantastic about the changes.
“Are there changes in the game? Yes, there are of course. But to me the fundamentals of the game don’t change. I don’t believe they can change.”
The Kilkenny manager since 1999 said hurling was still a game of skill, huge skill, physicality, pace, drive, honesty, determination and all of those things, which were all fundamentals.
In his opinion, these things can’t change.
“What can change are the various ways people put their team out,” he continued.
“You can only play 15-a-side, but there are no restrictions on how you employ those players. Different things have come into the game over the years, with different coaches putting out different formations.
“That is challenging because it is different. That is a change alright. Other than that it is hurling.”
When asked about his continued high end motivation as Kilkenny boss, he gave one of his shortest replies in a near half hour interview.
“I enjoy doing it,” he said as he spread his arms wide to emphasise the point.
“That’s the reality of the situation. I could dress it up and come up with all sorts of fanciful things, but there are none.
“I have been involved in hurling, from playing, coaching, all my life. Why? Because I enjoy it. I enjoy it easily as much now as I did before.
“It is not a job. I don’t have to get up and do this every morning or every year. If I didn’t feel like doing it I wouldn’t do it. There is no mystery to it.”
The former four times All-Ireland medal winner said the ambition in Kilkenny at the start of the year was to be in the All-Ireland final. When people speculated on who might be there, the county wasn’t mentioned.
That was fair enough, but Kilkenny continued to build away, to build a team, to keep things going.
He admitted the Cats didn’t enjoy a very successful League campaign, but all the time they were working towards the championship.
“The players were working hard and honestly,” he pointed out. “I said at the start of the year, and I would always say it, that I had confidence in the players.
“I really believed there was serious talent, serious honesty there. We just kept things going, and here we are.”
The county ran into a glut of injuries at the start of the Leinster championship, but that didn’t change the mindset.
“We don’t tend to dwell on things like that too much,” he insisted. “There is no point in me talking about having confidence in the panel and then panicking when two or three players are missing. That is where the panel comes into action.”
He admitted Kilkenny got a bit of a scare against Dublin in the first Round Robin match when they were still finding their way with the team, but half-time switches work and the players really stepped up to the mark afterwards.
The competition in Leinster was tight, and Galway lost out early. The day Kilkenny drew with Wexford in Wexford Park he knew Kilkenny were into the provincial final.
A whole new pathway opened up after that.
He announced himself satisfied with how things went from there; even the losing effort in the Leinster final against Wexford when Kilkenny took a bit of criticism for going for goals too early near the end of what was a tight match; and then the fine victories which followed against Cork and All-Ireland champions, Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The intensity of the action in the Limerick game, for the entire 70-odd minutes, grew gasps of amazement and appreciation from all quarters that amateur players were able to produce so much effort.
Was it one of the most intense performances from Kilkenny in his time, Cody was asked?
“I wouldn’t say that,” he insisted. “Everyone is saying that. We had to bring the level we brought, and Limerick had to bring the level they brought to make the game as competitive as it was.
“It was hugely competitive. Otherwise it couldn’t have happened.
“I am sure there will be another challenge where everything will have to be similar. I don’t dwell on matches that went before.
“I would have difficulty recalling lots of them, so I don’t know, but it was an absolutely satisfying performance without a doubt.”
What did that win do for the confidence?
“Winning breeds confidence,” he assured. “A good performance breeds confidence as well. Different individuals playing at a particular level helps them too. It is a learning experience for some of our players.
“Knowing they can go to Croke Park and perform at that level against the best team in the county over the last 12 months has to help, no doubt.”
And so, what of his ‘Captain Fantastic’, TJ Reid?
“TJ is a wonderful player, there is no doubt about that,” he said with enthusiasm. “Obviously the talk was that we were a one man team.
“If TJ didn’t score we hadn’t a hope of winning. That was never the case anyway because TJ is the free-taker and he is going to get scores from frees and obviously other players were being fouled as well as himself .
“The last two games he didn’t score from play which was a strange statistic, but his performances were absolutely out of the top drawer. His contribution was immense.
“Was he scoring frees from fouls on himself? Of course. His nerve in free-taking has been top drawer over the past few games.
“He is our captain. He is having a terrific season. He is a terrific leader in every way, but he will be the first to acknowledge the contribution of every single player on our panel.”
Cody couldn’t speak highly enough about Kilkenny’s opponents in the final, Tipperary.
“You can talk about Tipperary forever,” he said by way of a gentle entry.
“You can talk about skill. It is magnificent, as is their ability to play, their scoring potential is superb.
“But then you go to the last match they played against Wexford and you think about the last 25 minutes. They had 14 players on the field playing against a team that were playing really well and were ahead.
“You were wondering how will Tipperary cope with this challenge. Suddenly they found levels of everything that brought them to such a level.
“I’m not saying this because we are playing them but this is the truth, this is what happened. The character they showed, the resilience they showed, the determination they showed and the sheer ambition they showed were just trop drawer.
“It wasn’t as if it all happened easily for them as they were still rocked by two goals in that period of the game. That should be enough to kill off most teams, especially when they were down a man, but they just kept going and came out on top.
“They were rocked as well by things that didn’t go their way from the point of view that they got goals that were called back for different things.
“Against all the odds they came out and won the game. It was a phenomenal display of guts and courage; everything you’d love for a team to have. That is what we are facing.”
Thus he set the scene for Croke Park on Sunday!
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