Saturday 18 November 2017

Another All-Ireland win but Cody is not done just yet

Kilkenny's all-conquering boss will return in 2015 to plot fresh assault on MacCarthy Cup

Record breakers... Brian Cody is embraced by Henry Shefflin after Kilkenny's victory over Tipperary on Saturday. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Record breakers... Brian Cody is embraced by Henry Shefflin after Kilkenny's victory over Tipperary on Saturday. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

John Mullane

At the end of Brian Cody's first season in charge of the Kilkenny hurlers, in 1999, Cork were three ahead of the Cats on the All-Ireland senior roll of honour.

Tipperary trailed Kilkenny by just one, with 24 titles, but fast forward to 2014 and with the dust settling on last Saturday's final replay at Croke Park, the Cats are out of sight.

Kilkenny now lead Cork by five and Tipperary are nine behind them. That just sums up what Brian Cody has achieved as Kilkenny manager in 16 seasons.

In that time, he has taken his team to 13 finals, excluding replays, winning ten and losing three.

Kilkenny have also lost two semi-finals against Galway and a quarter-final to Cork.

They've beaten Offaly, Clare, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and Tipperary in finals and, in some cases, demolished their opponents.

Dublin and Wexford have also been put to the sword in other games of major championship significance along the way.

And last year was not a true reflection of this Kilkenny team because you have to bear in mind that Cody was absent for a chunk of it with health issues.

That had a big effect on Kilkenny and was a factor in them not appearing at Croke Park, and bowing out against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

As I stated in last Monday's column, he rules with an iron fist and he has got far more tactical calls right than wrong during his remarkable tenure.

These Kilkenny players have an awful lot to be thankful for but similarly, Cody has a lot to thank his players for, too. Will we ever see better defenders than JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh again?

Medal

And will we ever see a better forward than Henry Shefflin, who collected a tenth winner's medal on Saturday?

I'm predicting here and now that Brian Cody will be back patrolling the Kilkenny touchline in 2015.

And I'm predicting that he's going to win more All-Irelands, which is what the would-be pretenders to Kilkenny's almost annual throne don't want to hear.

But I do think that Henry will slip away now. He's got his tenth, La Decima, but I reckon that JJ will stick around and try to emulate Henry's feat.

JJ's on nine now, he'll want another one and Cody will target an 11th.

That's just a hunch but Cody will recognise that on the back of winning this year's All-Ireland minor title, a fresh batch of talent is coming through.

Take the more experienced players out of the equation and the average age of the team is still relatively young.

Cillian Buckley, one of the unsung heroes of the year, is still only 22 and, along with Paul Murphy, he was Kilkenny's best defender in the championship.

Bringing Padraig Walsh in was another Cody masterstroke and he had an exceptional game.

And just look at how Kieran Joyce slotted in to collect the man of the match award.

It's testament to Cody's genius that, just like 2012 and Walter Walsh, a player parachuted in from left field walks away with that individual accolade.

John Power played his part too and his goal, Kilkenny's second, was the score that killed off Tipperary.

As the plaudits come raining in on Kilkenny, we shouldn't forget about this Tipperary team either.

Formidable

If you were to ask Cody about all of those finals and teams he has played against over the years, he would pick Tipp as his most formidable opponent.

And if we're marking out this Kilkenny team as the greatest of all time, that puts Tipperary right up there too.

While one could argue that Tipp didn't meet the Noresiders when they were arguably at their peak, between 2006 and 2008, they'd have another two or three All-Irelands in the bag if they hadn't run into Kilkenny.

And in Waterford's case, we'd feel the same, that we could have won one but it's just unfortunate that we found ourselves in an era when we came up against teams managed by Cody.

But in 20 years' time, it will still be nice to look back and say that I played in that era.

Coming out of Croke Park on Saturday evening, I was making my way back to the car when a man in his 50s approached me.

"Fair play to you, John," he said. "You're the only man who called it right all year."

The game that really made up my mind for me was the league game between Kilkenny and Tipp at Nowlan Park in the spring.

Kilkenny were ten points down but came back to win by six. They rattled in some goals that day and that suggested to me that they would take some stopping.

And what Cody has achieved now is very much reminiscent of Alex Ferguson during his time at Manchester United.

When Fergie took over, he proclaimed that he would knock Liverpool off their perch.

And when he finished with the Red Devils, United had moved two clear in the league title roll of honour.

Cody did more or less the same, scorching well ahead of both Cork and Tipp. And just like Fergie did, Cody has rebuilt teams on at least three occasions.

People might argue that he's had the raw material to work with but it's easier said than done.

And his hunger levels and drive to come back and win it year after year never ceases to amaze me.

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