Tuesday 20 March 2018

Brian Cody almost retired a decade ago but now stands on the cusp of more records

Brian Cody will tomorrow lead Kilkenny into action for the 201st time since taking over in late 1998. He has already beaten all records in GAA history – is there more to come?

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Ten years ago this month, Brian Cody seriously considered resigning as Kilkenny manager.

They had lost an epic All-Ireland semi-final to Galway which, in itself, wasn't sufficient reason to prompt a departure.

But since it came 11 months after Kilkenny had lost the All-Ireland final to Cork by eight points, it seemed an appropriate time for deep reflection.

Cody's speech to the squad in the dressing-room after the Galway defeat obviously sounded like a farewell because when they got off the coach at the Newpark Hotel on their return to Kilkenny, three players followed him to his car and enquired about his intentions.

He told them he didn't know what the future held. They stressed that the squad wanted him to continue, but he was still uncertain.

The players' intervention just hours after the defeat would have made it very difficult for him to leave but there were other considerations.

The previous year had ended with Kilkenny's biggest All-Ireland final beating for 40 years and now they had conceded five goals in a semi-final for the first time since the 1920s.

Had his time come? He had completed his seven years, during which three All-Ireland, three League and six Leinster titles had been accumulated in 83 games. It was a fine haul, but maybe it also marked the end of a cycle.

Yet, the more Cody considered the overall scene, the more he became convinced that despite popular opinion lauding Cork, who had won the 2004-'05 double, as a power that would prevail for quite some time, it wasn't anything like that straightforward.

Kilkenny had, after all, come up just three points short while closing in on Galway all the time after trailing by 11 points.

Whatever else went missing that day, the spirit was very much intact. He decided to continue. DJ Carey and Peter Barry never hurled for Kilkenny again, having opted out before the start of the 2006 season. Otherwise, it was back to basics, as Cody set about restoring Kilkenny to the No 1 spot.

Ten years and 117 games later, with a further seven All-Irelands, five League and eight Leinster titles secured, he is preparing to lead Kilkenny into Croke Park tomorrow for what will be his 16th semi-final as a manager. The only miss was in 2013 when Cork beat Kilkenny in the quarter-final.

He completed his 200th Championship/League game as Kilkenny manager in the Leinster final win over Galway.

He wasn't around to run the sideline for the 2013 League semi-final and final as he was recovering from a heart procedure.

Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty, both vastly experienced operators, took charge for those two games and it was very much business as usual. Kilkenny beat Galway in the semi-final and Tipperary in the final in Nowlan Park.

Dempsey later revealed that Cody's essential message to himself and Fogarty was quite simple: "Just get on with it."

But then, Cody has always stressed the need for everyone in the camp to take lots of responsibility.

That includes even the least experienced player on the team who, once he pulls on a black-and-amber jersey, has to be ready to make his own decisions.


Team ethos has always been a non-negotiable component for Cody in deciding whether a player would make the grade.

"We have had a lot of star players on our squad over the years but didn't - and still don't - have prima donnas. It's the ultimate co-op where everybody is equal.

"The work ethic is phenomenal and, thankfully, everybody buys into it because they know that's how the squad functions. Of course, players' individuality can be easily incorporated within that as long as the team values always come first," he wrote in 2009.

Six years on, nothing has changed.

Cody's longevity is in marked contrast to the rest of the counties where the number of managers since 1999 ranges from ten to five. Interestingly, Waterford have the next lowest to Kilkenny, having had five managers in that period.

Cody's ever-presence in Kilkenny raises the question of who many would-be managers in the county have seen their chance come and go. It will never be answered, just as it wasn't in Kerry when Mick O'Dwyer reigned from 1975 to 1989.

That lengthy tenure was thought unlikely to happen again but Cody has already beaten it by two years, with probably quite some more to come.

Dwelling on the past is something he's not interested in to the degree that even in years when Kilkenny win the All-Ireland, you suspect that even as the celebrations are going on, Cody is waiting for the Walsh Cup.

Incidentally, Kilkenny have won the pre-season competition six times under him.

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