February 1999 - Brian Cody with fellow selectors Ger Henderson (left) and Johnny Walsh at the Walsh Cup semi-final against Wexford Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
The more things change the more they stay the same. That is especially true in Kilkenny with Brian Cody staying on as senior hurling boss for another year.
After Mickey Harte departed from his role in managing the Tyrone senior footballers after a mere 17 years, it leaves Cody way out on his own as the longest serving current inter-county boss in either code.
The James Stephens man is looking into his 23rd consecutive season at the helm of the Cats, a feat that is only matched nationwide by Sean Boylan who also led Meath for 23 years.
Like Cody, Boylan was hugely successful as he led his native Royal County to four All-Ireland football titles as well as seven Leinster crowns.
Meath were also beaten in three other All-Ireland deciders so it was a real golden period for Meath football. The county hasn’t been able to replicate that success since Boylan departed the scene in 2005.
While Harte and Boylan have kept tabs with Cody numbers wise they never had to oppose the Kilkenny man. It’s probably no coincidence that no hurling manager has come anywhere close to matching Cody’s figures.
Of the current top tier hurling managers it’s remarkable that both John Kiely and Davy Fitzgerald are the next longest serving managers. They have overseen four years in charge and, like Cody, are set to continue in their roles in 2021.
As with the longevity both have been relatively successful too with Fitzgerald leading Wexford to a first Leinster title in 15 years back in 2019 while Kiely and Limerick have landed two of the last three All-Ireland titles.
When you look at the Brian Cody success story you have to go all the way back to his playing career to see that the seeds had been sown long before his playing career ended.
Like a lot of famous Kilkenny sons, the now-retired school principal claimed All-Ireland medals as a player at minor, under-21 and senior level.
In total Cody was a part of three Kilkenny senior wins and lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup as captain after Kilkenny beat Cork in 1982.
After his playing career ended a couple of years later, he then undertook a number of coaching and management roles in his native James Stephens. This eventually led to him being the only candidate for the role of Kilkenny hurling manager at the back end of the 1998 season.
The new incumbent replaced Kevin Fennelly who departed the scene after the Cats were beaten by Offaly in that year’s All-Ireland final.
In his first year in charge Cody brought through a number of new players including the likes of James McGarry and Henry Shefflin, both of whom became mainstays of the side over the following couple of seasons.
With that perfect blend of youth and experience Cody guided Kilkenny to a Leinster title victory over Offaly on a 5-14 to 1-16 scoreline.
The team also qualified for the All-Ireland final that year but on a miserable wet day for hurling they were outgunned by a young and developing Cork side.
The All-Ireland win didn’t have to wait long to arrive for the manager though. After the Cats made it three Leinster titles on the trot in the summer of 2000 with another victory over Offaly, they again found themselves in the showpiece September decider.
A familiar foe awaited them as, with the help of the newly developed qualifier system, the Faithful County got over that provincial final loss to clash with Kilkenny for the second time in as many weeks.
Like in Leinster though, Kilkenny would prove too good for the 1998 winners with Henry Shefflin and DJ Carey netting goals in a 13-point victory.
Kilkenny continued to dominate provincially a year later but relinquished their All-Ireland crown at the semi-final stage when Galway trumped them before Tipperary took the title.
Cody and Kilkenny didn’t let that brief setback affect them as, only a couple of months later, they achieved their first league title in seven years.
The championship proved to be just as successful with another Leinster title resulting after Kilkenny narrowly got the better of Wexford.
The Cats then regained their All-Ireland title as Carey and Shefflin scored 2-13 between them in a dominant final victory over a resurgent Clare side.
Up to that point the Kilkenny boss hadn’t overseen back to back All-Ireland titles, but that was about to change.
The Cats beat Cork in ruthless fashion on a 0-17 to 0-9 scoreline in the championship decider. After Clare, Wexford and Offaly had won titles in the years beforehand, Kilkenny were the first to do it two years on the bounce in a decade.
In 2004 Kilkenny had the opportunity to record three MacCarthy Cups in a row but things didn’t really go to plan. A last-gasp Wexford goal shocked them in the Leinster semi-final. While they did get back to the All-Ireland final, they were eventually beaten by Cork.
The following year saw Kilkenny claim league honours for the third time in four years but for the second successive year the ultimate crown evaded them.
Not for the first time it was Galway who halted them at the semi-final stage in an all time classic.
Following the retirement of a number of players including DJ and Peter Barry there was a bit of a shakeup in the Kilkenny panel, but the victories weren’t for stopping as they got back to the All-Ireland final in 2006.
Instead of struggling in the absence of big names, a new team was created. As history shows this Kilkenny side will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time with the final victory over Cork where they denied the Rebels a third crown on the bounce proving to be the beginning of a dynasty.
The 1-16 to 1-13 victory saw Aidan Fogarty come to the fore in a man of the match display and it was Cody’s fourth All-Ireland as manager in total.
While Fogarty stood out that day it could have been anyone with the team including influential players on every line in Noel Hickey, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh, Michael Fennelly, Brian Hogan, Eddie Brennan, Eoin Larkin and many many more.
The 2006 All-Ireland victory kicked off a huge period of dominance for Kilkenny hurling and in many ways the win over Cork was one of Cody’s greatest achievements.
Dominant All-Ireland final victories over Limerick and Waterford followed in the next two seasons as the Cats completed a much sought after three in a row.
At that stage Kilkenny were far and away the best team in the country but the success was never likely to last forever and it wasn’t long until a hugely talented Tipperary side arrived on the scene.
In 2009 the new challengers pushed Kilkenny to the limit in a pulsating final that was only settled when Martin Comerford and Henry Shefflin netted quickfire goals that made it four titles on the trot.
Being the first side to do five in a row at senior level was in Kilkenny’s sights in 2010. While they did qualify for the final, a hugely determined Tipperary lay in wait and with Henry Shefflin suffering a cruciate ligament injury early on the writing was on the wall.
Liam Sheedy’s Tipp took full advantage though with Lar Corbett scoring a hat-trick of goals as the Premier County ended a nine year wait for the All-Ireland title.
Despite missing out on the five in a row, Kilkenny still continued to dominate the hurling landscape over the following years, winning four of the next five titles.
The first of this series brought an end to the Kilkenny and Tipperary final trilogy with a devastating Michael Fennelly goal helping Cody’s men to a four point success in 2011.
A year later and Kilkenny were celebrating again as they overcame Galway via a replay.
Clare ended the monopoly with a shock victory in 2013 but again Kilkenny were on top in the following two seasons with further wins over Tipperary and Galway.
The 2015 victory over Galway where Joey Holden was the captain is the last time Kilkenny reigned supreme. When the coming campaign begins it will be six years since the last All-Ireland title.
It’s not like Kilkenny have disapperared off the scene though as they qualified for two more finals but were well beaten by Tipperary on both occasions.
Kilkenny reclaimed the Leinster crown with an impressive victory over Galway last term but if anything tells you where Kilkenny currently lie it was the way they celebrated that provincial crown.
It was their first success in four years but unlike a decade ago they no longer hold complete dominance in the province with the likes of Wexford and Galway getting the better of them in recent years.
Still the base of that Leinster win is cause for optimism in the future. With eight of the starting team that night against Galway picking up their first medals it was reason for celebration.
That’s one side of things but the other is that Kilkenny are currently on their longest winless All-Ireland run in the Cody era and it’s hard to tell when it is going to end.
While top class players consistently came through the Kilkenny ranks 10 or 15 years ago, the well of talent has dried up a little in recent times.
The lack of any minor success at All-Ireland level since 2014 will attest to that as will the lack of an under-20/21 crown since 2008.
In short there are definitley challenges awaiting Brian Cody as he looks ahead to another season of hurling.
It’s clear the Kilkenny boss is constantly trying to change things to improve matters. Bringing in DJ Carey as a selector last year seemed like a good move, but it didn’t all go to plan as last Monday night’s County Board meeting confirmed Carey’s departure from the squad.
The Young Irelands man, as well as fellow Kilkenny man Patrick O’Flynn, are both thought to be in the running for the vacant Carlow job.
As of yet the former hurler of the year has not been replaced in the Kilkenny backroom team with James McGarry and Martin Comerford remaining in their roles as selectors while Michael Comerford will continue as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
Kilkenny GAA released a statement confirming Carey’s departure.
“Kilkenny GAA would like to take this opportunity to thank DJ Carey for his contribution to GAA in Kilkenny over the past number of years,” the Co Board said in an address. “We wish DJ all the best in the future and thank him for his immense contribution to GAA in Kilkenny.”
Confirmation of the roles now means Cody and his selectors can get down to work ahead of the beginning of the Allianz National Hurling League which is currently scheduled to commence next month.
It wasn’t just the senior team where confirmation arrived with the finalisation of the other Kilkenny management teams also revealed.
It’s as you were for the county’s other hurling teams with Derek Lyng staying on as Under-20 manager.
Lyng, who saw his side beaten by Galway in the Leinster semi-final before Christmas, will retain Michael Rice and Peter Barry as selectors.
At minor level Richie Mulrooney will stay on in charge of the side, who are yet to find out if they will get to play their Leinster final, which was postponed following the move to a Level 5 lockdown.
Adrian Finan, Martin Carey, James Meagher and Niall Bergin will be selectors/coaches at this grade.
In junior football the county side will be taken on once more by Christy Walsh.
He will be joined in the dugout by selectors JJ Grace and Paddy McConigley, both of whom have served the Cats well over the years.