Cody: No team keeps on winning forever
At four minutes past three yesterday afternoon Henry Shefflin skipped out on to Croke Park to end all speculation about his participation in this year's All-Ireland final.
Wearing no evidence or showing no effect from the past four weeks of intense rehabilitation on the damaged cruciate ligament in his left knee, Shefflin went through the same routine business that he has gone through in 51 previous championship games.
Throughout the warm-up and for 13 minutes in the heat of battle he applied the same principles he has stood by that have made him the player he has been in 12 remarkable seasons.
Nothing was spared, no part of his game was short changed, no brake was applied. He missed an early free -- not for the first time in an All-Ireland final -- but made amends shortly afterwards with his one and only point in the 2010 contest.
But by 3.43 it was all over for him. Pulling up on the Cusack Stand side, the long walk back across the field afforded the whole stadium the opportunity to rise collectively and applaud him from the battleground.
On a greasy surface -- for all its glory and pristine condition Croke Park doesn't take to drizzling rain too well -- a man playing with a four-week old torn cruciate is always liable to suffer a reoccurrence.
Even the greatest player of this or possibly any generation with hydraulics for muscles in his thighs.
It provokes the obvious question in Kilkenny and beyond. What was the state of Shefflin's readiness for battle? How great was the risk involved in playing a man on such a fresh injury? On the face of it not as great as it might have seemed. They were six points down (1-4 to 0-1) when he left, but were just a point in arrears by the break. His replacement Michael Rice acquitted himself well. And Richie Power carried responsibility impressively for the most part in his absence.
But so much of their build-up focused on his injury and the measure of how much Kilkenny missed him was felt most in that period between the 54th and 70th minute when Kilkenny were between three and six points adrift.
Cast your mind back to the important plays he made in the corresponding fixture in that period of time 12 months ago for a sense of what Kilkenny missed.
For Brian Cody there is no sense of regret concerning Shefflin's brief recovery or the decision to pick him. After all, John Tennyson lasted the same game with the same injury. For Cody, Henry was just "unlucky" and defeat "wasn't about losing Henry at all."
"We lost Henry the last day and somebody steps in and takes his place.
"If someone gets an injury he goes off and somebody else comes in.
"That's the way it works. Losing Henry the last day didn't disrupt the team. Michael Rice came on, Michael Rice was very good when he came on, so it's not even remotely an excuse or a reason for anything. Again very, very unfortunate on Henry.
"He came in with a serious injury, but John Tennyson had the same injury and they both had the same treatment and John Tennsyon lasted the pace no problem whatsoever. It's just one of those things."
But you wonder about the cumulative effect of all the injury concerns Kilkenny have had this summer. From Tennyson to Brian Hogan and even Tommy Walsh's slight shoulder scare. -- the presence of 8,000 people for a training session in Nowlan Park.
Someone suggests a "set-up" but Cody doesn't buy that theory and suggesting that such numbers have turned up before for sessions in Nowlan Park.
"We don't close the door on training, people turn up for training. It hadn't anything to do with it in the slightest. We could have been set up for it any year."
Nothing will dilute Cody's ultimate conviction either that "the better team always wins the All-Ireland final."
"That's the way it worked from start to finish today," he ventured.
"We had a couple of missed chances after half-time at a time when if we could have got ahead... maybe...possibly, but look, there are going to be missed chances right through the game for both sides. That's the way it works. There are no ifs or buts or maybes. It was comprehensive."
Cody's consistency of thought and opinion transcends victory and the rare defeats he has had to endure as a manager, and that's quality that has never diminished in him.
Just as talk of five-in-a-row didn't absorb him for the last 12 months or four-in-a-row for the 12 months before that neither does missing it perplex him more now.
"For me no, not in the slightest. I've said that many times. The All-Ireland final is about this year. I'm only disappointed that we didn't win this year's All-Ireland final. That's what it is all about."
He's asked about the potential for this defeat being a "watershed" moment for this Kilkenny hurling team, a possible "turning point" and that prompts an amusing return of serve for a man whose had a few such inquisitors for breakfast before!
The questions soars across the interview room. "Is it a watershed?"
"I don't know what either means to be honest."
The temperature rises. "Is it a turning point? Is it the end of the Kilkenny team. Is it the end of you?"
Twenty one consecutive championship wins, four All-Ireland titles, a wealth of underage talent to fall back on and there's someone with a P45 on his mind.
"I haven't the slightest idea. What do you think?"
"I'm asking you."
"You sure are. I think it's a stupid question to be honest. Watershed? I don't know what it means. Think about it and write about it and see what you come up with."
No team is above defeat and Cody has never once felt insulated from that reality.
"I do know one thing for certain, no team keeps on winning forever. We appreciate what we've got. I don't think we ever felt superior because we had that run."