Tuesday 27 September 2016

Different set of rules apply when you're master of all you survey

Tommy Conlon

Published 21/08/2016 | 14:00

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

At half-time last Saturday, Brian Cody approached the referee and, to everyone's surprise, presented him with a bouquet of roses. He was very pleased with the job James McGrath was doing. And the great man just wanted to say it with flowers.

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Or maybe not. But he did go up to the Westmeath whistler. And he did have words. Who knows, perhaps even stern words. Because, as a former schoolmaster, he knows that you've got to nip these things in the bud before the children get out of hand. Someone has to take charge of all the children, young and old.

Moreover, it is always important to control the controllables. Which is not saying, of course, that referees or linesmen are controllable, or even get the least bit nervous when a tall man with a red face and a bristling demeanour hovers over them.

No, not at all. These referees and linesmen are robots. They are trained not to have any feelings of doubt, or indeed fear, no matter what the circumstances.

So it is very much regrettable that some Waterford substitutes felt the need to approach Mr McGrath at half-time too, and offer a counterargument. Like, the cheek of them. The audacity. And the presumption too, for how were they even to know what Mr Cody had discussed with Mr McGrath? He might after all have merely been inquiring as to the referee's wellbeing. He might have been asking, for all they knew, if McGrath could sort him out for a few tickets for Foster & Allen, being Westmeath men too, more or less.

And it was an even sadder sight, then, to see a few members of the Waterford management team decide to brazenly confront Mr Cody along the sideline in the 55th minute. It is this kind of carry-on that gives the GAA a bad name. Someone should have taken them aside and calmly told them that Mr Cody was only doing his job.

Mr McGrath had made the wrong decision. He had given a free to Waterford. And such was Mr Cody's sense of injustice that he felt the need to step onto the field and very demonstrably point out to the referee the error of his ways. Which of course he is well entitled to do.

Now, we're not saying that every manager is entitled to do it, because then we'd have anarchy. But a man of Mr Cody's stature is entitled to his own special rule of dispensation and anyone who might dare to question this has simply no respect for hurling. Because it is his "passion" for hurling that makes it all okay. It is a noble passion. Contrary to what the smart alecs down the back might say, it has nothing to do with wanting to win games by hook or by crook; it is just his passion for the game. And if a man of his passion can't express his passion in a passionate manner, then we've come to a sorry pass.

It is why the GAA has decided never to discipline or sanction Mr Cody in any way, over the last 17 seasons, for these incursions onto the field, or for his impromptu summits with referees and linesmen.

There are penalties alright for team managers, stuff to do with "abusive language" and "threatening conduct" and the like. But sometimes a man's greatness is in fact so great that mere rules and regulations somehow seem a tad . . . unbecoming. And the GAA in its wisdom recognises that there are times when making an exception to the rule is not just appropriate, but morally right too.

Because if the match officials aren't doing their job properly, then someone somewhere has to call them to order. That someone is Cody; that somewhere is the sideline. Far from begrudging him this privilege, everyone should be grateful. Because there aren't many people who possess the moral courage to stand up and fight for what is right.

The sideline is truly the great man's domain and, quite frankly, one can understand why occasionally he appears to find the presence there of other managers a little irksome.

Like, who in all fairness can say that Anthony Cunningham didn't have it coming to him when Mr Cody decided to give him a proper dressing down in Croke Park a few years ago? The then Galway manager just didn't demonstrate sufficient deference. Cody in fact showed the patience of a saint that day, and many more days like it.

So, it is heartening to see that he is not always fighting a lone battle out there. Sometimes a few of his lieutenants find it within themselves to stand behind his skirts, as it were, taking the battle to the enemy too. One man's singular courage has inspired others to brandish the scales of justice and the sword of truth in the eternal crusade against darkness.

Brian Cody, in short, is the way, the truth and the light.

He will no doubt be familiar with Oliver Goldsmith's hallowed poem, The Village Schoolmaster. The eponymous didact knows how to control his environment: he is "skilled to rule". He is a kind man too. But he doesn't take any messing either: "Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace," writes Goldsmith, "The full disasters in his morning face."

Croke Park at the time of writing has yet to announce its referee and linesmen for the All-Ireland final.

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