Saturday 23 September 2017

Perfect 10 aim for Cody and Shefflin

As dust settles on Cats’ latest title, focus shifts to only thing that matters – the next one

Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin embrace at the final whistle after collecting their ninth All-Ireland title as manager and player respectively
Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin embrace at the final whistle after collecting their ninth All-Ireland title as manager and player respectively

Colmy Keys

Brian Cody may find it curious to hear there has been more speculation than usual this year about his future as Kilkenny hurling manager.

In fact it might be more accurate to say there is actually speculation for the first time in his 14-year reign as the game's most successful sideline general.

It's hard to know what the genesis of such conjecture could be or why now this particular pot has been stirring for the last few weeks and even months.

As always, Cody hasn't "the slightest idea" about his future but to listen to him in the aftermath of a ninth success he didn't sound in any way like a man who had grown tired of the fight.

In appraising the enthusiasm of his players and expressing amazement at the prospect of Henry Shefflin not returning for a 15th championship season in the wake of Sunday's victory, Cody might well have been speaking of his own state of mind too.

Any amazement from Cody at a Shefflin retirement will be reciprocated if the roles are reversed.

It was interesting to listen to Cody's reaction in the post-match press conference to the suggestion that Shefflin had 'set the tone' in the early stages of the replay for Kilkenny to press on.

Shefflin, Cody reminded us, had been setting the tone since he first came into his squad and was handed his debut in 1999, the year it all began.

Because the careers of Cody, the manager, and Shefflin, the player and field general, are so intrinsically linked now, it's impossible to see them not laying down their tools together when that time comes.

Already Shefflin has given the firmest indication possible that he'll be around to seek a 10th All-Ireland medal in 2013, provided serious injury doesn't derail him as it has done for the last two seasons.

And his acknowledgment that he had embraced the prospect of becoming the most celebrated All-Ireland-winning hurler of all time on the field of play and that it had motivated him was a rare admission that records and milestones do actually drive him on.

dusted

It was at odds with the mantra that they will only ever reflect on their impressive haul when their careers are done and dusted.

So the prospect of becoming the first hurler to hit double figures in terms of All-Ireland senior titles is sure to illuminate him in much the same way.

This All-Ireland triumph may well indeed be Cody's finest managerial triumph of the nine too.

The 2006 success against Cork required a big shift in thinking for Kilkenny.

After three championship defeats in the previous two years, coming in against a team preparing for a fourth consecutive final, they gave primacy to their defensive orientation that day and closed down the space on Cork's strike runners.

Three years later, the impact off the bench of Martin Comerford, Michael Fennelly and TJ Reid swung momentum back in Kilkenny's favour against Tipperary.

But it was the ability to absorb the lessons of the drawn game and put those lessons to good use in only his second ever championship replay that, on reflection, may well stand above everything else he has achieved as a manager. An extra three weeks was new territory for Cody and, in that time, enough trust and faith was established to select Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh, two players surplus to requirements in the drawn game, at the expense of the more established Colin Fennelly and Aidan Fogarty.

Their selection, particularly that of the unheralded Walsh, was out of sync with what you have come to expect from Cody.

But the conviction to press ahead and play a debutant in an All-Ireland final replay and reap such spectacular results elevate this triumph above the others.

The bookmakers have hardened their view on Kilkenny since last year, quoting them liberally at even money to retain their title and complete three in a row next year. At 4/1 and 9/2 Galway and Tipperary are a distant second and third in the minds of the men and women whose bank balances depend on the accuracy of such judgment.

Significantly, Kilkenny shared an 11/8 quotation with Tipperary after last year's final.

Yet despite the narrowing of odds on a three-in-a-row the hurling landscape may well be the most even that it has been since the middle to late 1990s.

Kilkenny look dominant right now but out of the top eight they have perhaps the most limited scope to improve and gather a 10th title of he Cody/Shefflin era.

More and more it looks now like they will share a parachute for the jump and when the time comes they will pull the rip chord together.

It's unlikely that such choreography has ever been discussed between them. It's not a topic of conversation either man is likely to have.

But they came in together at a particular time in Kilkenny hurling and they will, in all probability, leave together as the totemic figures in the cycle of the greatest ever.

The perfect 10 for both would be a fitting way to round it all off.

Irish Independent

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