BRIAN CODY isn't a man to throw away bouquets cheaply. When you receive high praise from the Kilkenny boss, you know that you've earned it ... so JJ Delaney can rest easily in retirement.
In Cody's estimation, his departing No 3 was the greatest defender ever. And while he doesn't tend to be "shocked too easily", he was still surprised ("a bit but not massively either") when the player called with news of his imminent announcement, back in December.
Of the five Kilkenny hurlers to retire during the off-season, Delaney was the only first-15 mainstay and the only one to start the All-Ireland replay. Moreover, the Fenians clubman doesn't turn 33 until later this spring.
"I think everybody feels there is more in JJ," Cody reflected. "But again, that is only for JJ to decide and JJ has decided that there is more in him from a club hurling point of view ... but he has decided that after a wonderful career, he is finished at inter-county."
From one former full-back to another, where did he rate Delaney?
"Well, JJ was injured for the 2006 All-Ireland final, just a short time before the final," he recalled. "I said at the time that I had never seen a better defender - and I haven't seen anything to change my mind since. I have never seen a better defender than JJ Delaney."
Whereas Delaney's primary function was to smother his direct opponent - be it playing at left half-back or edge of the square - Tommy Walsh was a different type of defensive legend. More of a swashbuckler.
"I have said many times before that, to me, Tommy was the game of hurling. Tommy is the game of hurling and nobody epitomises it to me more than Tommy Walsh ever did," enthused Cody, who also saluted the "outstanding service" given by Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and David Herity.
Not surprisingly, he was far less effusive when the subject of the warning he received from the CHC - over his media criticism of Barry Kelly's decision to award a late free to Tipperary in last year's drawn All-Ireland final - was broached. "I'm not even interested in discussing it," Cody deadpanned.
Cue a follow-up question about if/when Kelly is next appointed to referee a Kilkenny game. "My last answer should suggest that there wouldn't even be any more questions," he replied, "because I wouldn't be interested in discussing it."