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Book not yet closed as Cody eyes extension of dominance

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The silhouetted but unmistakeable figure of Brian Cody patrols the sideline in Tullamore. Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

The silhouetted but unmistakeable figure of Brian Cody patrols the sideline in Tullamore. Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

The silhouetted but unmistakeable figure of Brian Cody patrols the sideline in Tullamore. Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Brian Cody tells a story in his autobiography of the night the team landed back in Kilkenny after their 2005 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway.

As the bus let off its passengers in the car park of the Newpark Hotel on the outskirts of the city, Cody was approached by three players who questioned him on the tone of a speech he had made in the dressing-room hours earlier.

The players had detected the whiff of departure about what their manager had said and were anxious to make their feelings known. They wanted him to stay. Cody hadn't been looking for reassurance but appreciated it nonetheless. He had the dressing-room and that was important.

He admitted to having reservations about the future after three championship defeats in a 13-month period.

"I sat into my car knowing that even if I wanted to leave it would be very difficult after what had just happened," he recalled in his book four years later.

History since has shown that such a difficulty has manifested at the end of every season. He has had every possible platform to exit in the decade since but has spurned them all.

Regeneration in 2006, 2011 and last September offered opportunities to go out 'on a high note', if that's what he wanted. Defeats in 2010 and 2013, their earliest exit under his command, only served to reinvigorate him once again.

The romantic notion that Cody and Henry Shefflin might abdicate together once the 'perfect 10' had been achieved looked as good a time as any.

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Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin

SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin

The most successful player and manager in the game may have great mutual respect for each other but they are clearly not wrapped up in the requirement of a happy ending.

Clearly he is not interested in a particular type of departure. Milestones and records are welcome but they don't define his future.

Cody is true to the words he has spoken so often in the past that he will only leave when he isn't wanted, feels he is no longer enjoying it or doesn't believe he has anything else to offer. And right now none of those clauses look like kicking in any time soon.

Surprised

No wonder one chain of bookies were yesterday offering odds of 5/4 that he will stretch his time in charge out to 2020. No wonder no one was surprised that he has put his hand up for a 17th season in charge at Monday's county board meeting.

He keeps his backroom team tight and functional and has rarely made changes. The perpetual administrative presence of Ned Quinn, either as chairman or secretary, has ensured a seamless and uncomplicated link with the county board.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of agreeing to another term is the prospect of where this latest team can go.

Richie Hogan and TJ Reid have developed into the team's outstanding leaders, who really drove them for much of the season. Richie Power finished strong after injuries were dealt with and, after availing of the services of a personal trainer last winter, he'll be keen to extract every last ounce from his career.

The establishment of Paul Murphy as arguably the best defender in the game, the success of Cillian Buckley at half-back this year and utility of Padraig Walsh across three lines during the championship, culminating in a performance in the All-Ireland final replay that his brother Tommy would have been proud of, point to the emergence of a new team over the next few years.

Kilkenny's success in the All-Ireland minor final in September ensures that the production line is operating at full capacity again. In 2014, Kilkenny have got a feel for what a future without Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh might be.

Shefflin has suggested he will make a decision when his Ballyhale Shamrocks interests for 2013 at an end. But the feeling in Kilkenny, ventilated by former colleague Eddie Brennan only yesterday, is that he will retire.

Tommy Walsh's future is also cast in doubt. Walsh was a peripheral figure for much of the championship and didn't feature in any of the last four games. Can he really come back from that?

In a curious way opponents will be happy that Cody has decided to remain in place. The challenge to beat Kilkenny is great but the prize of beating a Cody-managed Kilkenny is greater.

Tipperary have played Kilkenny 27 times in league and championship on Cody's watch and have lost 20. The feel-good factor from their 2010 All-Ireland final success has long since been eroded by the weight of victories that Kilkenny have enjoyed over them since - two All-Ireland finals, two league finals, an All-Ireland semi-final, a memorable Nowlan Park qualifier and three from four regular league games giving them a nine out of 11 record (one draw) over their great rivals. Would it merit as much to end that sequence if Cody wasn't around?

Maybe to other counties it wouldn't be as relevant but after their epic All-Ireland semi-final would it feel the same to Limerick? The 2013 champions Clare would see it as the ultimate test to bring down a Cody-managed Kilkenny side in championship.

Cody has come off arguably his best ever season as manager. Maybe 2008 was perfect in other ways and 2006 gave him unbridled satisfaction but this year has incorporated some of the toughest, and ultimately successful, decisions he has ever had to make.

He's at the top of his game. No need for any reassurance this time.

 

Cody: the best years

2000

Two weeks before the All-Ireland final Cody recalled driving home from training and reflecting on how the only things he had left to do were organisational. They were that ready and proved it with a ruthless win over Offaly to avoid a Kilkenny team losing three successive finals.

2006

Cody delighted in proving Kilkenny's doubters wrong in this one, a game he ranks right up there with the best. Three-in-a-row-chasing Cork were smothered at every turn.

2008

As close to perfection in the as they could get, culminating in a record All-Ireland final win over Waterford. The Cats won their four championship games by an average of over 17 points.

2011

The 2010 All-Ireland final defeat was avenged with a performance in the final against Tipperary that was better than the four-point margin suggested.

2014

Kilkenny may never finish a championship with three games like it. Their replay display against Tipperary was a technical masterclass. Big decisions were justified.

Irish Independent