Wednesday 28 June 2017

'There are players on our panel who haven't been seen yet who will be top players' - Brian Cody

Brian Cody checks his watch during Kilkenny’s defeat to Tipperary. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Brian Cody checks his watch during Kilkenny’s defeat to Tipperary. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

The ink is barely dry on Tipperary's 27th All-Ireland senior hurling success but the epitaphs are already being written about the end of Kilkenny's stranglehold on Liam MacCarthy.

Seismic defeats like 2010's final reversal to Tipp and their 2013 quarter-final exit to Cork prompted a devastating Kilkenny response, but there's a general feeling among hurling folk that the Cats' days at the top are numbered.

While their will to win and dogged competitiveness have never been questioned, they haven't looked the infallible force of years past, and other counties will smell blood as their conveyor belt of talent seemingly dries up.

Michael Ryan hinted as much when saying that Tipperary's nine-point win "might have awoken other giants" but after leading Kilkenny to 11 of the last 18 titles, only a fool would write off the chances of Cody masterminding a return to the promised land.

An All-Ireland minor crown in 2014, intermediate honours last month and St Kieran's College's hat-trick of Croke Cup wins earlier this year have been forgotten by many, but not Cody.

The game's greatest manager delivered a rallying call to his troops on Sunday night, the message being "to carry yourselves as gracefully in defeat as in victory" and he is not deterred by recent underage displays.

Suffering

Kilkenny haven't lifted the Leinster U-21 title in four years, suffering a 17-point defeat to Wexford in last year's final, and Westmeath shocked Eddie Brennan's charges this year.

"Does that mean there are no hurlers coming through?" Cody asked before departing Citywest Hotel on their way back to Kilkenny yesterday. "It doesn't mean that at all, there's some very good hurlers coming through.

"That's the challenge that's there for those players to be developed. And there are players on our panel who haven't been seen yet who will be top players, and quickly. You can be rest assured of that."

Injury forced Richie Power into premature retirement, while long-term casualties like Ger Aylward and Michael Fennelly compelled Cody to throw rookies Liam Blanchfield and Kevin Kelly into the deep end.

Such experiences can forge successful futures for the duo, and while the Cats have been "privileged to have had a very good run", Cody knows they have no God-given right to walk up the Hogan Stand steps every September.

"They will remember it and those young lads did very, very well. There's been a huge change in our team over a number of years, over a short number of years even, and there's no sense of saying, 'We should be winning this thing'. It's a struggle," Cody said.

"It's a challenge all the time, to be competitive, and we've been competitive again this year and we were competitive on Sunday as much as we were able to be against a very good team that ran out convincing winners."

Despite leaking water from every angle, Cody made just two substitutions compared to Tipp's five, with both Lester Ryan and Robert Lennon introduced on the hour mark. While Kilkenny's squad depth couldn't possibly compare to the days when their second 15 was said to be the second best in the country, Cody feels they still have huge quality, despite what some may say.

"It's an opinion but if we won the last two All-Ireland finals and were beaten in this year's final, with a poor panel, that's fair going. You'd have to wonder about how we do it, because it couldn't be done," he said dryly.

Despite the concession of 2-15 to Tipperary's red-hot inside forward trio of John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, Seamus Callanan and John McGrath, Cody refused to lay the blame at the full-back line's door and believes such analysis is "cheap".

"They won't be scapegoated by us. I would hate to think that would happen. That's the simplest thing in the world to do. It's a cheap sort of analysis of the game," the 1982 All-Ireland-winning captain said.

"I haven't heard a single analysis of anything about it. I don't know what anyone thinks.

"But at the end of the day it doesn't really matter what anyone thinks. I know what I think and we win together, we get beaten together. We attack together, we defend together and our full-back line had been heroic and were manful to the very end, as were all our players."

Cody's only regret is losing, and there is no sense of ifs or buts.

"There were no excuses. We were beaten by a better team," he said. "This happened us before. The better team always wins it as far as I'm concerned and it was conclusive.

"We could have done this, we could have done that. . . it didn't matter. Tipperary were the better team."

The 62-year-old will decide his future in November as normal but it would be a major surprise if he were to walk away, and he hasn't contemplated losing any trusted soldiers although huge questions surround nine-time All-Ireland winner Jackie Tyrrell, who never saw a minute of action this summer.

Tyrrell will go back to James Stephens, where his Kilkenny boss is a senior selector, as hurling life continues on Noreside, but grander plans are likely be plotted by Cody and Co over the winter to return to the summit.

Irish Independent

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