Cody taking road back to summit one step at a time
BRIAN Cody has had 158 days to reflect on how Kilkenny's All-Ireland five-in-a-row dream faded on a damp September Sunday in Croke Park but, as the new season counts down to tomorrow night's take-off in Thurles, he is happier to talk of the future than the past.
Nothing new there, of course, since all seasons -- successful or not -- have always been neatly folded away and consigned to history by a man for whom the start of a new campaign brings as much energy and excitement as when he first started out as Kilkenny manager in November 1998.
Now, as he heads out amid that rarest of environments, where neither the All-Ireland nor Allianz Hurling League trophies are resting in Kilkenny, he is back to first principles. However, those principles don't vary very much just because Kilkenny are no longer No 1, no more than they remained exactly the same during the glory years.
A year ago, all the talk was of Kilkenny's five-in-a-row pursuit, while now the focus is on whether they will regain the No 1 spot or, similar to what happened after losing the 2004 All-Ireland final, face further difficulties in the championship.
"Others may have been talking of the five-in-a-row this time last year but we weren't," said Cody. "We've never talked of the championship until it came along and even then, only game by game. It will be the same this year. Right now, all we're thinking of is Saturday night against Tipperary."
Kilkenny head into the new season without long-term absentees, Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson (both cruciate), Richie Power (out for 10-12 weeks with a hip injury), Eoin Larkin (nose), Derek Lyng and James Ryall (retired), Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford (club-tied with O'Loughlin Gaels), but they fish in a large pool, leaving them well equipped for the challenge.
Shefflin and Tennyson, both of whom are recovering from their second cruciate operations, are the longest-term worries and, as of now, neither has a projected return date.
"They're both working away and hopefully there will be no setbacks. The important thing is that both make full recoveries, as I'm sure they will," said Cody.
Among those back in training is Michael Kavanagh, the longest-serving squad member, having joined the panel in 1998.
He got no championship action last season but, at the age of 31, is determined to challenge for his place again this year in what is a very competitive field.
"That's the mark of him as a man and a hurler. We've always known exactly what he's like," the Cats boss said. Just as he has done every season, Cody is targeting the league as the first goal in a season when there will be huge interest in how Kilkenny react to last year's All-Ireland final defeat.
"Whether or not we were All-Ireland champions never had anything to do with how we approached the league," Cody added.
"It's there to be won so we go for it. It gives every county seven very competitive games in a fairly short space of time -- what better preparation could you have for the championship?"
Kilkenny are not using a set panel at present, but with so much talent striving to impress in the absence of established stars, the mood and tempo of their hurling is likely to be intense and quick this spring.
A league opener against Tipperary, who beat them in the league and championship last year, is an attractive proposition and, while it won't define their season, they will be determined to make a winning start.
Kilkenny have lost their opening league game in only two of the previous 12 seasons under Cody, underlining their enduring capacity to hit the ground running.
Clearly, the bookies believe the trend will continue, pricing them at 8/11 to beat Tipperary, who are 11/8.