Brian Cody's recipe continues to defy logic and keep Cats in title hunt
Evergreen boss reinvents himself and maintains Kilkenny aura of greatness
They say all good things must come to an end but the enduring brilliance of Kilkenny boss Brian Cody and his ability to eke every ounce of ability from his Cats knows no bounds.
Few could have envisaged what started humbly in the winter of 1998 would manifest into the most successful inter-county managerial reign in the history of the GAA.
Eleven All-Ireland titles in his 20 years at the helm is an extraordinary achievement but the past two years have been as much of an accomplishment as any other period in his glittering time as Kilkenny supremo.
Those who argue that anyone could have trained the great Cats side of the noughties to All-Ireland glory given the remarkable talent at his disposal are grossly misinformed.
Having some of the game's greatest in Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh - as well as a star-studded supporting cast like Eddie Brennan, Jackie Tyrrell, Derek Lyng and Eoin Larkin - meant he had the raw materials to work with.
It's one thing having the ingredients but if not mixed correctly, they won't flourish and Cody forged an unbreakable bond which helped cement their place as hurling's finest.
It is not possible for the talent currently at his disposal to live up to that illustrious billing of what came before them but they can carry themselves with the same spirit, and the James Stephens clubman has helped to instil that.
Kilkenny legend Delaney - speaking at a live Throw-In podcast event on Noreside last week - outlined the personal characteristics which Cody passes on to his squad, and they have little to do with hurling.
"I hope he doesn't go for a good few years to come because every time a Kilkenny player puts on the Kilkenny jersey, you know for a fact that he's going to die in his boots. And where does that come from?" Delaney said.
"That comes from the top, it comes from Brian Cody. It's got nothing to do with skill or anything like that, it's just a mentality thing that he puts in every player there. And I hope that's there for years to come."
You can have all the skill in the world but it's worth little without a never-say-die attitude and that's one guarantee with every Cody team. Take last Sunday in Croke Park against Cork as a prime example.
There was little doubting the greater attacking potential of the Rebels but, barring the brilliance of Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan, John Meyler's men were broken down by the ravenous Cats. When it went into the trenches, there would only be one winner and that was Kilkenny.
It's often said that a team must be five or six points better than Cody's men as they claw and scrape their way back into games they often have no right to be in.
It's clear that they are wired differently, something developed by a manager who has little interest in looking back and basking in his wondrous achievements. Instead, it's all about the next game, the next battle.
When a host of legends exited stage left in the past four to five years, Kilkenny were supposed to do likewise but Cody - referred to as 'The Boss' by Kilkenny GAA officials given his standing in the county - had little interest in mediocrity.
Perhaps his greatest achievement to date was last year's league success. Tipped for relegation after two early defeats, the Cats bounced back in brilliant style to take Division 1 honours with some degree to spare.
Leinster success was denied, after a replay, by then All-Ireland champions Galway before pushing subsequent Liam MacCarthy Cup winners Limerick to the pin of their collars in the All-Ireland quarter-final, done so without star forward Walter Walsh.
They get their chance at revenge and another shot at the Treaty in their All-Ireland semi-final clash on Saturday week, carrying the underdog tag which they ripped to shreds yet again last weekend.
While the personnel have changed, the mentality never does and Cody - who turned 65 last week - is as sharp as ever. Time has moved on but he has refused to let it pass him by and he continues to reinvent himself and re-energise Kilkenny.
Mick Dempsey has been a trusted lieutenant in the area of strength and conditioning for many years, while former players Derek Lyng and James McGarry have added a modern touch to the tactical side of things.
Kilkenny's style bares little resemblance to that utilised by Shefflin and Co. Ball-winners were plentiful in that star-studded side but as the game changed and the scramble for primary possession became more intense, change was required.
You never would have seen a short puck-out from Kilkenny five years ago, or a series of hand passes and short stick passes in close proximity but needs must, and an outdated style was replaced by modern demands.
Those significant alterations weren't lost on Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald - who has long been a huge admirer of Cody's - in the wake of the Model's Leinster final victory.
"I would say straight out they have the best manager I've ever seen. And I mean, that, 100 per cent the best manager I've ever seen and I love going up against him. The way that they have changed tactically is incredible in the last two years," Fitzgerald said.
"They were a small bit loose in the last two years at tracking men, they're not anymore. They're able to play short, move it, cross it, they're doing a lot more stuff than they had done in the previous 10 years.
"Their style, the way they've adapted - and they've had to adapt - it's been incredible. A lot of people mightn't give them the credit they deserve for that."
The common conversation is of Cody's successor and the success stories of Shefflin with Ballyhale Shamrocks, Brennan with Laois and DJ Carey excelling as manager with IT Carlow and the Kilkenny U-20s add fuel to that fire.
As for now, however, Cody is the man who can't be moved and is just two wins away from a 12th All-Ireland.