Sport Hurling

Monday 29 May 2017

Cody keeps Kilkenny focused on ‘serious’ threat from Rebels

Despite being on course for five-in-a-row, Kilkenny are still somewhat under-hyped.
Despite being on course for five-in-a-row, Kilkenny are still somewhat under-hyped.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

BY now, Brian Cody has grown tired of repeating himself, but he'll say it anyway because he believes it to be true.

"There's no such thing as an easy championship game and that applies to every team. Some games are won by bigger margins than others, but they all have to be properly prepared for and then players have to perform on the day," he says.

Outside of the group assembled under Denis Walsh to comprise the Cork hurling panel, hardly anybody believes that Kilkenny will be beaten in Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final.

Indeed, there are probably members of the Cork squad who have doubts, but they won't be allowed to surface under the massed layers of mental conditioning that goes into modern-day preparations.

REGIME

Being hot favourites is not exactly new territory for Kilkenny, but it doesn't change one basic fundamental that has remained solid during the Cody regime: Ratings based on other people's opinions don't count and neither does previous form nor results.

They are all in the past and now Kilkenny find themselves striving to record a 21st successive championship win since their latest glorious run started with a 14-point victory over Westmeath in the 2006 Leinster semi-final. Since then, Galway (4), Wexford (4), Cork (2), Waterford (2), Offaly (2), Dublin (2), Clare (1), Tipperary (1) and Limerick (1) have all tried to end Kilkenny's run only to find it beyond their reach.

The irony is, of course, that the longer Kilkenny go without losing, the shorter-priced favourites they become, but, in reality, they are getting closer to defeat all the time. After all, every winning streak ends sometime.

So when will it happen for Kilkenny? Will it be soon enough to shred their application for a place in the history books as the first county -- in either hurling or football -- to win five successive All-Ireland titles in a row, or will it be postponed beyond this year, or next year for that matter?

It's a fascinating discussion point among hurling followers, but Cody treats it with about as much relevance as a squeaking door hinge in Nowlan Park.

His 'one game at a time' philosophy is not cliche-based, but rather a practical expression of how Kilkenny go about their very successful business.

"We're in an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork on Sunday -- that's all that matters to us," he says.

"The past doesn't count. We're up against Cork and we all know how Cork-Kilkenny games can go. The history between the counties is there for all to see. We regard Cork as a serious threat, but then we'd feel the same about whoever we were meeting."

It's that ability to focus totally on the next challenge and to see it as the most threatening of all that has helped Kilkenny to reach -- and maintain -- heights never previously explored.

Cork won an All-Ireland four-in-a-row in 1941-44, but achieved it in 15 games (including one draw), whereas Kilkenny have already won 20 successive games.

None of this is of current interest to Cody and Co, although they do recognise just how much Cork would love to be the team that finally end Kilkenny's remarkable run.

The Rebels may have looked flat in the Munster final replay against Waterford, but Cody prefers to reference their performance against Tipperary in the opening round.

"That was some effort by Cork and as Tipperary have since shown, they're serious All-Ireland contenders as well. As always, we have concentrated on our game and worked as hard as possible to make sure we get it as right as we can," he explains.

By throw-in on Sunday, Kilkenny will have been through a five-week gap without a game, whereas Cork will have had three outings since early July. In terms of fine-tuning, it's advantage Cork, but Kilkenny are proven masters at tailoring their work to suit whatever the schedule ordains for them.

They are also pretty good at dampening down expectations. One suspects that if any other county were so deep into the five-in-a-row bid, it would be hyped to an extraordinary degree. Not so in Kilkenny.

Priorities tend to be laid out in very tidy lines for the Cats and, for now, it's all about maintaining total concentration on the next challenge presented by Cork.

"It's all we're focused on because it's all that matters at the moment," insists Cody.







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