Sunday 23 July 2017

Comment: If Cody doesn't want to give up on Kilkenny, there's no way they should give up on him

Kilkenny boss Brian Cody reacts to a missed chance. Photo: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody reacts to a missed chance. Photo: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Few in Semple's temple had seen the likes before. Michael Fennelly scampers down the steps towards his manager and perhaps unveils himself as an impromptu hurling consigliere; a brief consultation and, right enough, Brian Cody reintroduces Richie Hogan.

But by then it was too late. By then it was all over, Cody's last act of the competitive season an apt reflection of his side's drift towards the Championship margins.

And yet the famously brief email from an Coiste Chontae Chill Chainnigh will almost certainly still drop this November confirming the retention of Cody for what will be a 20th season in the inter-county game.

The team may be creaking but the man who leads it is not.

And should the wonderfully defiant Fennelly discover that his aching body refuses to submit any more to the pain visited upon it for so many years, perhaps he might consider a more permanent advisory role, rather than joining the cluttered collection of ex-Cats in the la-la-land of punditry?

Ditches

There will be the usual clamour from those who perform their best hurling on ditches that Cody is gracelessly lumbering on far beyond his sell-by date and, like Sean Boylan or Mick O'Dwyer, may threaten to bequeath a vacuum when he eventually does quit.

Another summer of failure, they maintain, surely denies him the mandate to accept - let alone be offered - another of those familiar rolling one-year arrangements.

Alex Ferguson's name will, as it always is, be tossed into the argument with indelicacy: the Scot who apparently lingered too long at Old Trafford actually won a league title in his final season.

The sporting comparisons are fatuous in the extreme but there is a sliver of relevance residing in the age-old watchful warning to be careful for what one wishes.

When Cody was absent in 2013, his side may have won the League but a much superior vintage to the class of 2017 stuttered without his comforting presence in high summer. It was a brief insight into what life without Cody might look like.

Those of us who remember Cody's arrival also recall the context of the revolution years that had guillotined so many stripy-jerseyed heads.

Before Cody took the much-touted job that nobody else wanted, Kilkenny hadn't even won a Leinster title in five seasons. Now, a crisis has emerged because Kilkenny have lost a qualifier for the first time ever. Context, ladies and gentlemen.

There are clearly cognoscenti who can divine precisely what percentage of an impact Cody's management had upon the iridescent 21st century dominance that subsequently unfolded.

Most of them will confidently declare that, presented with a raft of the sport's greatest ever players, multiple-medalled magicians known beyond their borders merely by their christian names, anyone with a bib could have assumed the helm.

The temptation to submit to such expert opinions visited Cody, briefly, a decade ago when a heavy All-Ireland final defeat to Cork was followed the next summer by a humbling Championship exit to Galway; some of his squad were convinced he would decide to leave them.

Instead, he renewed his desire to lead them and untold sporting riches would await. Those of us who, perhaps drunk on Dublin success, bullishly called time on his tenure in 2011 were quietly muffled by the subsequent jingle jangle of four Celtic Crosses in the next five years.

He finds himself at a similar vista now; a chastening All-Ireland final defeat followed by a Championship exit the following summer; self-absorbed in reflection while gleefully coursed by critics beyond the border.

Cody is not the type to inure himself against criticism by brandishing all 11 All-Ireland titles, 15 Leinster crowns and eight NHL wins upon a defensive shield; if he felt it were better for Kilkenny hurling to remove himself from the sideline, he would do so.

It is much easier to argue that the standard of the Kilkenny squad has declined rather than that of the man who oversees them; indeed, the fact that his creaking and aching side even reached last season's All-Ireland final surely demonstrated what he still has to offer.

Since retiring from his day job - a startling reminder of how invidious comparisons are to professional sport - Cody has had even more time to devote to his task; he remains involved with school and club too; unfurling the next wave of Kilkenny hurler is a project that excites him.

Eddie Brennan's U-21s show promise after a recent fallow period; St Kieran's have re-assumed their pomp at colleges level and there is optimistic talk of the minors producing some black and amber nuggets.

Prowling

In two days' time he turns 63 but his prowling passion on the sideline last Saturday hardly betrayed one who is raging against the dying of the coaching light; Ned Quinn would be a foolish man indeed to contemplate being the man to extinguish the candle.

And the last time we checked, Ned Quinn is not a foolish man.

Rather than assuming that Fennelly's advice on Saturday was a reflection of Cody's weakness, was it not an admission of strength that he can take advice from others, as he has always done?

He has never proclaimed himself to be a sideline genius - or even close to it - and that weakness exposed his full-back line in last year's All-Ireland final but there was also the simple recognition that his side simple weren't good enough on the day.

Galway may win this year's All-Ireland and threaten the domination that Cork and Clare and Tipperary have all failed to deliver this century. The primary reason? Kilkenny and Cody. Splitting this successful marriage now after a rocky patch would represent the utmost folly.

If Cody can't give Kilkenny hurling up, why should Kilkenny give up Cody?

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