Kilkenny in safe hands
IF goodwill can accelerate Brian Cody's recovery after heart surgery, he will be back soon in his natural habitat, presiding over Kilkenny as their season opens out and they attempt to win a second All-Ireland three-in-a-row in seven seasons.
As news spread yesterday that Cody would be absent for a number of weeks, the messages of support were led by GAA president Liam O'Neill.
"On my own behalf, and on behalf of the organisation, I would like to pass on our warmest wishes to Brian and hope he will make a speedy recovery. We understand his desire for privacy and would ask people to respect it too," said O'Neill.
Kilkenny's next outing will be against Galway in the Allianz Hurling League semi-final on April 21, when his trusty accomplices Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey will take charge. If Kilkenny win, they will play the league final on May 5, while their first outing in the Leinster championship will be against Offaly on June 9.
That's earlier than usual for Kilkenny, who entered the Leinster championship at the semi-final stage for several years. However, that privilege is reserved for the defending champions, with Galway the beneficiaries this year.
Cody has been such a constant on the Kilkenny sideline for so long that it's almost impossible to visualise them without his towering presence.
It's akin to Manchester United without Alex Ferguson and, while Cody's term in Kilkenny is 13 years shorter than Fergie's 27-year reign, it's still quite a residency, one which has delivered the most decorated period in the county's history.
By the close of play against Cork last Sunday, Cody had completed his 157th game in charge in league and championship since replacing his first cousin, Kevin Fennelly, as manager in November 1998.
Since then, Kilkenny have won nine All-Ireland, 12 Leinster and six league titles and are now booked in for another league semi-final. It's a remarkable success story.
There will be huge interest in how Kilkenny fare for however long Cody's absence from the training ground and match days lasts, although he is still likely to have a big influence from behind the scenes.
Dempsey, Kilkenny's long-time trainer, and Fogarty, who has vast management experience will no doubt adhere rigidly to the systems established over the years.
Both have played a major role in establishing them, with Cody at the top bonding the entire operation into the dynamic force that it is.
He has always emphasised the importance of solid structures, based on shared trust and responsibility.
"The first essential in management is putting in proper foundations and structures; without them you're at nothing because sooner or later everything comes crashing down if the fundamentals aren't tightly packed together," he wrote in his autobiography in 2009.
"It's vital for a team manager to have all the strands pulling together so that a sustainable momentum can be created and maintained."
His respect for Dempsey is well documented so he knows that the physical conditioning of the squad will proceed as usual and requires no input from him.
He wrote of how Dempsey takes total control of training the team. "When he's doing his work, he's the boss and I'm the helper so if there are cones to be collected, I'm your man. There's no hierarchical system in our dressing-room.
"Some managers might think it beneath them to sweep dressing-rooms or collect cones but I don't. In fact, I believe that being prepared to do just about anything is central to running an effective operation where there are no stars and no egos, only a group of people all on the same wavelengths.
"I would regard it as my best achievement in management that I succeeded in putting that sort of scene in place."
His respect for Fogarty is also well documented.
Cody has put a brilliant system in place, much of which is based on common sense and unyielding loyalty to the belief that if the simple things are done properly in the right environment, everything else will fall into place.
Nonetheless, a Kilkenny sideline without Cody – for however long it lasts – will be a different place, not just for their own players but also for the opposition. He has always radiated the impression that he knew exactly what was going on and what was about to happen next, in a dual effect that brought comfort to his players and worry to the opposition.
He will, no doubt, be back on duty as soon as medical opinion allows it.
Meantime, the opposition will attempt to exploit the absence of the top Cat as best they can. They would be advised to make the most of it while it lasts.