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League of Gentleman

NOT for the first time in his storied career - and surely not for the last time either - Brian Cody has launched a broadside against his least favourite person in GAA officialdom, the referee's assessor.

For Cody, this nameless character is invariably the villain of the piece in the never-ending debate about refereeing standards, placing referees in "too much of a strait jacket" instead of allowing them to use their "common sense".

The Kilkenny boss also disputes the narrative that hurling has become too physical during this era of Black-and-Amber dominance -- led by Cody's own indomitable troops and with all serious pretenders pursuing the same template.

Instead, the man who has guided Kilkenny to eight All-Ireland titles has repeated the charge that the Allianz National Hurling League is refereed differently than the championship -- all because they are monitored so closely by assessors.

"I worry about the physicality of the game being looked at in a negative way," Cody declared, speaking at a Croke Park press conference to publicise Sunday's Allianz League climax against Cork in Thurles.

"Apart from these unfortunate cruciate injuries or natural injuries that can happen from body movement or breaking a finger, there is no dirt in the game at all. You couldn't even begin to have it because we are scrutinised by cameras and laws looking back at things.

"But in my head, I totally believe that they are trying to take genuine physicality out of the game. And I wish they would stop doing that.

"Of course, I'll be probably pilloried for pretending this is the type of game we want to play and we are looked upon as this massively physical team. I don't see it that way at all."

What, then, did he make of Anthony Daly's recent complaint (following Dublin's drawn relegation play-off with Galway) that referees are letting too many clear fouls go unpunished?

"Anthony never said anything about the physicality," countered Cody. "Anthony was talking about the referee's interpretation -- what's a free and what's not a free. If Anthony Daly starts talking about taking physicality out of the game, I think I'd give him a shout myself and tell him to pull himself together."

The Kilkenny boss has no doubts who is to blame.

"I'm not going to start giving out about referees in the slightest, but I have always given out about the fact they are assessed left, right and centre and that the league is always refereed differently to the championship.

"Absolutely nobody will convince me otherwise about that," he maintained.

"It can make things too complicated by putting referees on chairs in a circle and saying, 'Look at this, look at that, why wasn't that a yellow card?' I just think the referees have to be allowed to use their common sense."

Warming to his theme, Cody argued that recent All-Ireland finals have been refereed differently to games earlier in the season because the whistlers suddenly feel free of the assessor's spotlight.

"I certainly do believe that," he said. "Everybody raved about the All-Ireland finals for the past three or four years, about the quality of the games. The referee was a fundamental part of that.


"Where you could begin to have a problem with the kind of games those were, I don't know. But that's just my opinion."

On a related matter -- Davy Fitzgerald's contention after Clare's league semi-final against Kilkenny that referees are "afraid" to make a mistake against the big teams -- Cody steered a more diplomatic course.

"That's Davy's opinion," he remarked. "I have a lot of time for Davy Fitz, he's a terrific GAA man ... Davy said what he said and that's fine.

"I have never felt the referee played with us, but then again I don't ever feel the referee played massively against us either, most of the time."