There must be change, but Cody is still the man to lead Kilkenny

Enda McEvoy

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Enda McEvoy

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@kilkennypeoplesport

There must be change, but Cody is still the man to lead Kilkenny

Kilkenny captain, TJ Reid showed great leadership qualities

In the aftermath of the closing MacCarthy Cup decider of the decade, let’s start with the big picture.
Perspective is important. Perspective is all the more important following a defeat.

Kilkenny finish the decade with four All-Irelands to their name, more than anyone else.
When they won four All-Irelands in the 1970s it was rightly regarded as a golden era for the county. To win four All-Irelands in a decade in this era, when both the standards and the demands of the game have never been higher and indeed continue to reach new peaks, is an incredible achievement.
For that, and for Brian Cody, may the Lord make us truly thankful.
* Here are a few things that we knew or said beforehand.
If it turns into a shootout, Tipp will win. If it’s an open game, Tipp will win. If it’s close, Kilkenny may grind it out.
If they manage to repeat what they did against Limerick and choke the life out of their opponents, Kilkenny will win.
See the pattern? Kilkenny the fighters, Tipperary the craftsmen.
Kilkenny the team who’d reach a certain scoring quota – 1-22 on a good day, perhaps – and no more, Tipperary whose scoring upside was unlimited. Kilkenny seeking to out-scrap the enemy, Tipperary seeking to outhurl them.
It was a tacit admission of Kilkenny’s lowered status in life and the reduced expectations of their supporters.
* Here are some of the tallies Tipp have racked up against Kilkenny in All-Ireland finals in recent years: 1-28, 2-29 and now 3-25. Stunning totals compiled by master craftsmen.
Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Padraic Maher and Brendan Maher have been magnificent hurlers and – something that has been all too often overlooked – magnificent competitors. It was not inevitable that they’d keep coming back from all those defeats by Kilkenny, in National League finals as well as the championship.
Yet they did, time after time.
A third All-Ireland medal of the decade is the least these gentlemen deserve. They’ve earned it by the quality of their hurling and the indomitability of their fortitude.
* Sunday’s turning point was not the sending off but the opening goal. After 20 minutes Tipperary trailed by 0-8 to 0-3, having been barely able to get the ball past the opposition half-back line.
In little more than the blink of an eye they proceeded to rattle off 1-3. All Kilkenny’s good work and energy expenditure had come to nothing and now they were trailing. It was true: Tipp had a top gear Kilkenny didn’t possess.
* Right, Richie Hogan. It’s very simple. Richie gave James Owens a reason to send him off and Owens obliged.
Four years ago in the All-Ireland final Owens copped out and brandished a yellow card when – coincidentally also shortly before half-time – Colin Fennelly was clotheslined by Johnny Coen. He was widely condemned afterwards.
He wasn’t going to make the same mistake a second time, even if there was no grey area in Coen’s case whereas there was room for argument on Sunday.
Ref instructed
But we’ve heard time and again this summer that referees had been instructed to show red for anything around the neck or above. That Cathal Barrett had caught Hogan on the face earlier may say something about inconsistency on the part of Owens but doesn’t alter the circumstances surrounding the later foul.
If it was Richie’s last act in the jersey it will ultimate not efface the memory of his gaiscí in stripes since his minor days in 2004. He has been one of the great Kilkenny players of this era or any other.
* The dismissal altered the pattern of the game; it did not alter the result. Tipperary would have found a way through eventually, and in any case they were already leading without playing well and had two more gears to go up.
But far more so than the scoreline at the end, it was Kilkenny’s response to the sending off that was the most disappointing element of the afternoon from a Noreside point of view.
Teams down to 14 men have been turning it around in the second half since time immemorial. They’ve done so by producing thoughtful, patient, imaginative hurling.
Sadly Kilkenny did none of that in the second half here. They produced not thoughtful, patient, imaginative hurling but caveman stuff.
It ought to have been pretty straightforward. Don’t rush. Put your moves together slowly and carefully.
Keep the two men in the full-forward line wide and go down the flanks or across the field at angles to them, thereby taking the spare defender out of the equation.
Above all – and this really shouldn’t need to be stressed - do not lump the ball down on your full-forward when he has two opponents around him: one to thunder into contact, the other to hang back and pick up the pieces.
That Barry Heffernan had a fine second half was no fault of Colin Fennelly’s. Most of the reason was because Heffernan could attack the dropping ball, knowing he had the safety net of a colleague behind him.
Once more Kilkenny found it beyond them to unpick opponents fielding a spare defender. Once more they could think of nothing more profound than the long, straight, bog-standard, easily defendable ball.
I’d like to claim the following sentence as my own, but rather than magpie it from my friend Brian I’ll give him full and merited attribution.
“Of all the teams that could survive a sending-off,” he mused on Monday, “we are the most ill equipped tactically and intellectually to deal with such a disadvantage.”
What a line, eh? There can be no - no - disputing it. We’ve been here over and over again, dating back to Henry Shefflin’s dismissal in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final at Semple Stadium.
Had Kilkenny not practised for 14 against 15 and 15 against 14 in training for last Sunday? Or was it that they had practised but that the players are so hardwired to hit any old kind of ball from the back that they reverted to first principles?
Kilkenny are not only unable to do lateral thinking, they don’t seem to want to try.
* It may sound odd, but a reasonable proportion of the losers’ players did adequately or better. Let’s name some names. Good performances should be acknowledged, even in defeat. Especially in defeat.
Huw Lawlor did a manful job on Callanan. Joey Holden banished his demons of 2016. Paddy Deegan never stopped attacking the ball. Padraig Walsh will be an All-Star. John Donnelly put in a terrific shift.
Worked ass off
Colin Fennelly worked his ass off in impossible circumstances. TJ was TJ, insofar as he was allowed to be. And Billy Ryan when introduced showed exactly what he’s capable of and exactly what makes you wonder why he doesn’t show it on a regular basis.
* The minors were a disappointment. They were even more of a disappointment given the style and dash they showed in beating Limerick. But they’ll have been a disappointment to nobody more than to themselves.
Rather than viewing it as a second big-day defeat to Galway in consecutive years, however, one can equally say that Richie Mulrooney’s lads were the team who got nearest to Galway in consecutive years – and these past few seasons Galway in the grade have been not so much a succession of successful minor teams as an Irish under-age sporting phenomenon.
* I’m not usually one to say I told you so, but a couple of weeks ago here there was a snippet about Kilkenny’s ongoing problems in finding the net at under-age level. On Sunday the issue reared its head once more, and not merely at under-age level.
Add it up. The senior team exited the championship after failing to raise a green flag against Tipperary. That made it a total of three goals in their concluding four games of the summer (Leinster final and three games in the All-Ireland series).
The minors exited the championship after failing to raise a green flag against Galway. And DJ Carey’s under-20s exited the championship after failing to raise a green flag against Cork.
In the Leinster final they’d managed one goal against a Wexford defence Tipperary subsequently went through for a short cut.
Conor Browne’s weak shot apart, Brian Hogan didn’t have a save to make on Sunday. Contrast this with Tipperary. Now Niall O’Meara is no goal merchant, but he didn’t settle for popping over a handy point. No, he went straight for the jugular.
This was a move that had clearly been rehearsed any number of times in training, with O’Meara revealing afterwards that he’d actually been instructed to keep his shot low.
No fingers can be pointed at Cody, Mulrooney and DJ on this count. They can only work with the material they’re given.
The problem is a macro one.
So I’ll ask the question once more. What is the big-picture cause of the county’s inability to score goals? Is it a coaching issue?
Are the management of under-age club teams advising their forwards to take their point rather than put their head down and risk shipping some punishment?
Anyone?
* Finally. If Brian Cody was the right man to manage Kilkenny on Sunday morning, which he was, then he was the right man to manage Kilkenny on Sunday evening, on Monday morning, next weekend and next year.
With one proviso. The entire coaching regime he oversees is no longer fit for purpose. It has to change.
It has to be rethought, retooled and updated. Sunday’s second-half attacking debacle proved as much.
On this there is absolutely room for debate. Rip it up and start again.

For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.