independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

The great Cody debate: Should he stay or go?

Has Kilkenny legend still got the drive?

Brian Cody, still only 59 years of age, is young enough to take a break from the game and return to the helm when he's refreshed for the challenge

Has the hurling legend still got the drive to revive Cats' fortunes or is it time for a fresh face?

The Case to STAY

1. The lesson of 2006 and 2011

"Talk of Kilkenny being a finished force caught in a time warp made me all the more determined to get things back on track. I swore that by Christ we'd prove Kilkenny weren't gone."

In his autobiography Brian Cody recalled his state of mind in the aftermath of the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway, their third defeat in two championship seasons.

He was defiant and convinced that the perception that Kilkenny had slipped was off the mark.

He was right too. Within 13 months they were All-Ireland champions and embarked on their greatest ever sequence of victories that brought them to within one game of an unprecedented five-in-a-row.

Similarly when Tipperary won the All-Ireland title in 2010 and added an U-21 title so impressively six days later the future looked all blue and gold.

Even when Kilkenny lost to Dublin in the 2011 league final there were doubts over their capacity to recover. But again they did.

Now those doubts have surfaced once again after their poorest season since he took charge.

Their capacity to recover, no matter what the age or mileage profile, has been there consistently and Cody has always been able to reinvigorate his teams.

2. It's not the way to leave it

At any stage after the last two All-Ireland triumphs Cody could have picked the perfect moment to leave.

That is if he felt the perfect moment was getting out on top as champions, the way most people would like to see it happen.

But an All-Ireland quarter- final defeat to Cork, when your greatest ever player has been red-carded and there is mirth on the faces of a small section of the opposing supporters in the crowd behind you, is not the place to leave it. Not after what they have achieved.

3. There is no one better

It's the first and most obvious question any board or group of supporters is entitled to ask: is there anyone better out there?

And the straight answer within Kilkenny is no.

Cody's selectors Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey took charge of the team when the manager was recuperating from heart surgery in April and May and things ran smoothly.

But they always knew he was coming back. They act as a team and so the idea that either Fogarty or Dempsey would be better stepping up or could bring something different just isn't relevant.

The U-21 management, Richie Mulrooney and Adrian Finan, have had success at underage level in the recent past but there isn't a queue of potential candidates forcing the hand of Cody or the county board in any way.

4. Injuries dealt them a very bad hand in 2013

Injuries have played havoc with Kilkenny all season.

Henry Shefflin's case has been well documented but the loss of Michael Fennelly, the team's driving force from midfield in the past three seasons, allied to the legacy of injuries from last year that troubled Michael Rice and TJ Reid for most of the season didn't help.

Even getting Reid and Rice back to full fitness would be a massive help, not to mention Fennelly and Shefflin.

5. The challenge and the hunger

Having missed almost two months to recuperation and now with the season ending two months prematurely, it could be that Cody would be even more driven than ever in 2014.

The Case to GO

1. The historical comparison

The only comparable inter-county GAA team in history were the Kerry footballers, 1975-1986.

Actually it should read 1975-1989 because most of the same players and the same management were still in place three years after their last All-Ireland triumph.

In hindsight Mick O'Dwyer should have left after the 1987 Munster final replay defeat to Cork.

"The spell had been broken and it was time for serious reassessment. I didn't quit because I was still enjoying it and, ever the optimist, I reckoned we could recover. At least that's what I told myself. I was wrong," wrote O'Dwyer in his memoirs, 'Blessed and Obsessed'.

The profile of Kerry and Kilkenny from the respective eras is uncannily similar.

They both lost 'five-in-a-row' All-Ireland finals, they both recovered to win three-in-a-row in Kerry's case, and two-in-a-row in Kilkenny's.

Are the Cats today where Kerry were in July 1987?

2. Unpalatable decisions may lie ahead

Cody has never been the type of a man to shirk a hard decision regarding a player.

If he felt something wasn't quite right for the team he went with his gut instinct, regardless of reputation of a player or any sentiment that may have been attached.

But if he is to stay at the helm, some of the hardest decisions may revolve around players who have served him so loyally as a manager and the county in general, in some cases the best of players. Having to leave some of these players on the periphery or even move them on altogether would be more difficult, in some cases, if they didn't rediscover form than anything he has had to do previously.

That's an accepted part of management but personal relationships have grown through the years of success to make it even harder.

3. Talent pool has diminished

Whoever manages Kilkenny over the next number of years could be facing into a much less successful period because the signs are that the number of players of sufficently high quality coming through is not as high as it has been.

Kilkenny have enjoyed extraordinary times even at underage level and have won two of the last five All-Ireland minor titles, 2008 and 2010.

But their U-21 record may be more relevant to senior hurling and in that sense the recent defeat to Wexford was sobering – it ensured that they have had no All-Ireland U-21 title win in the last five years.

Compare that to the previous five years, 2004 to 2008, when they won three out of five in 2004, 2006 and 2008 to help fuel the more recent boom.

Preserving a great managerial record is probably the remotest factor in weighing up a decision but much tougher times could be ahead.

4. A fresh voice

Cody has not been averse to making changes in his own back-room team in the past, recognising the need for freshness at the end of 2005 when he parted company with his selectors, Johnny Walsh and Noel Skehan.

Dempsey and Fogarty came in and were fresh voices to him, a move which was clearly beneficial as the results underlined. Could the same principle of freshness apply to the current group of Kilkenny players? None of the current squad have ever played under a different manager.

Maybe some are curious as to what a different voice, a different way of doing things, could do for them.

5. A break might set him up for a second spell

Cody is still only 59 years of age. If he took a break now he could come back fully refreshed at any stage in the future when there is a vacancy and face into a different challenge with the Cats.

Results of our readers' online poll

Is this the right time for Brian Cody to retire?

Yes - 31.2%

No - 68.8%

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