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Cats go back to basics

IF it's true that you learn more in defeat than in victory, then Brian Cody hasn't had much of a sporting education.

Seven championship defeats in 14 seasons is the total of Kilkenny's mishaps on his watch and in just about every one, you can see the lessons learned by hurling's most successful manager for future use.

In 2004, post Wexford and Damien Fitzhenry's devastating setpiece puck outs, the Kilkenny centre-back never again strayed from the number six channel, regardless of the movement of his man.

A year later, after Galway stuck five goals past James McGarry, the positioning of the Cats' half-back line evolved backwards, a hard line of three in closer proximity to the second last line of defence.

And after 2010 and Lar's hat-trick, the Kilkenny half-backs started receiving much greater protection from their midfield and half-forward line and not until Galway in this year's Leinster final did any attack enjoy so much space and freedom against Cody's men again.

So what then, did he take from the Galway hammering so that just two games later, they produced possibly the most outstanding performance of his distinguished reign?

Turns out, they just went back to the core principles which have served them so well over the last decade and a half.

"It wasn't as if there was a fundamental problem, or at least we hoped there wasn't, of a lack of honesty or anything like that," Cody recalls. "There was a huge, huge lesson for us.

"It's a game that we'd have to look at and say we didn't perform, we weren't competitive and were out-fought in so many aspects of our game and out-hurled but you go back and regroup but there was no major change of mindset or tactical change for the next game.

"No, certainly there was no sense of a panic."

Not within the camp, anyway.

That Kilkenny were blown off the pitch, physically, tactically and hurling-wise was both startling and compelling. It was, in every sense, an aberration from how they have dominated their craft in recent times so somewhat inevitably, questions were asked. Had Galway cracked the code? Were Kilkenny on the slide? Was it a one-off or symptomatic of a wider problem?

Cody being the cool-headed manager he is, the more salacious aspects of the reaction now amuses him.

"We went into Leinster final after a big win over Dublin, being talked of as unbeatable, now being talked of again is similar terms after the Tipperary win. They said we went into that Leinster final as unbeatable and we know what happened -- is it any wonder then we don't pay any attention to what's being said in the media?" he shrugs.

"Anyone who would say that is off the wall - there's no such thing as an unbeatable team and that myth was shattered completely in the Leinster final."

Sticking to his guns has served Cody well. Take, for example, Tipperary's now infamous deployment of Lar Corbett as Tommy Walsh's shadow in Croke Park a fortnight ago.

Cody has seen most things on a hurling pitch but even he must have been took by surprise. At no point, though, did he consider ending the farce by switching Walsh onto Corbett.

"We had just decided to do what we did," he shrugs. "In the natural course of events a back will mark a forward. If a back is given a job to mark a forward that's the job he'll do - you don't tend to see forwards marking backs.

"I'm not going to discuss their tactics on the day but to answer your question, no, it never, ever, ever was on the cards that we were going to change what we had decided to do."

Still, there aren't too many squads of players that could reassemble after such a hockeying and put in the sort of shift the Cats did against Tipp, though.

Trust

"I would have a huge trust in the players," Cody explains.

"You can see it in them, their attitude, their level of disappointment afterwards, I'd have had absolute confidence that they were going to be completely honest in their attempts to rectify what happened on Leinster final day and their attitude was top-class.

"At the end of the day you go back and work..there's no magical way of doing it. We wouldn't have been thinking of any major dramatic change after that.

"We shouldn't be in a position where one defeat is going to suddenly shatter our confidence, I think the team has been together too long for that to happen.

"People are beginning to wonder around the place, are they finished, is the team coming to an end -- that's being speculated on in the press and whatever and that's fair enough," Cody adds.

"It hasn't occurred to me that that is the case though."


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