Monday 24 September 2018

Brian Cody's work between draws and replays has always been supreme

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Ripples of excitement were still pulsing through the 34,432 crowd who had just witnessed a classic All-Ireland hurling semi-final draw between Kilkenny and Waterford in Croke Park almost two years ago when the TV picture shifted to the camera at the confluence of the two passageways that lead to the dressing-rooms beneath the Hogan Stand.

The match couldn't have been over seconds but there was Brian Cody turning right to head back down to Kilkenny's dressing-room. Out on the field players were still exchanging handshakes, some perhaps trying to absorb the magnitude of the game they had just been involved in. But Cody was already gone, his face clearly expressing a man whose thoughts had already turned to Thurles six days later.

From the moment James Owens brought it to a conclusion, advantage was conferred on Kilkenny, that sense that Waterford had missed their chance palpable around the ground.

Kilkenny had largely been outplayed and had come from behind, five points down entering the closing stages, before Conor Fogarty had struck a late winner. They had struggled, yet no one was in any doubt about where favouritism should lie. A few factors dictated that, first their status as champions and second their manager's replay record.

At that moment that the cameras switched to him, you instantly thought of that, how the week ahead was so much his territory, where his instinct for matching the right player with a situation came into its own.

Kilkenny would, of course, go on and make the most of their second chance, Pauric Mahony's late free dropping short enough for Eoin Murphy to leap, grab and clear, to bring their record under Cody to five from six in championship games. But it's the way that their manager has set about applying corrective measures that is the most interesting part.

Structural

For each of the six replays he has overseen, Cody has made an average of just over three personnel changes each time, before structural changes within that team are considered.

By comparison, only once has any of the six managers, Galway's Anthony Cunningham when Galway lost a Leinster semi-final replay in Tullamore in 2014, made three.

In both All-Ireland final replays they have been involved in under his management, 2012 and 2014, Cody has donned the surgical gloves to make three changes each time while their opponents, Galway and Tipperary, made none. What did that contrast say each time? What did the number changes say about either management's expectation of their team?

For that Waterford replay two years ago, Derek McGrath swapped Stephen Bennett for Colin Dunford, his only change.

Cody's delivered his customary three changes in between, springing Liam Blanchfield for his full championship debut while adding Mark Bergin and Eoin Larkin for Kieran Joyce and John Power. In Blanchfield's case, the decision was made quickly, Cody informing him over his selection on the Tuesday.

But it was the pairing together of Richie Hogan and TJ Reid at midfield which was arguably the biggest surprise of the night, a show of strength in an area where Kilkenny needed to make an immediate impact. To get early momentum Cody was willing to deploy his chief marksman at the heart of the engine room. Blanchfield's selection for his first championship start mirrored the call-up of Walter Walsh for the 2012 All-Ireland final replay.

Walsh and Cillian Buckley had impressed in Kilkenny's All-Ireland U-21 semi-final defeat of Galway a few weeks earlier, placing them both in the shop window for inclusion.

While Buckley had featured earlier in the campaign, Walsh was a completely left-field selection and he delivered in some style, hitting 1-3 for the most spectacular of debuts. But what Cody also got right between games was the deployment of Richie Hogan at full-forward, having been under pressure at midfield in the drawn game.

The one blemish on Cody's replay record is defeat to Dublin in 2013. Dublin came off the back of two games against Wexford and were battle-hardened. Kilkenny, on the other hand, were picking up injuries and lost Paul Murphy for that particular replay which again featured a customary deluge of changes.

The scalpel was out and busy again for the 2014 All-Ireland final replay with Tipperary. Like Galway two years earlier, Tipperary opted to sit on their hand and allow Cody to make the bets. And once again he was stretching his arm across the table to gather in all the chips when it was over.

Pádraig Walsh had been restored to half-back, having switched between midfield and centre-forward in the earlier part of the season while Kieran Joyce was also recalled to track Patrick 'Bonner' Maher who had been such an influence in the drawn game.

The Joyce selection raised eyebrows locally and, in a rare departure, on the morning after their replay win Cody would slammed those who criticised their spirit and selection. "We do what we like with the team, because we pick the team, we are in charge," he rebuked.

John Power was the 'rabbit from the hat' in 2014. Having got in for the tail-end of the drawn game, the younger Power was elevated to the 'A' team in training and delivered with three goals in a practice match, enough to convince Cody he was ready. A goal in the replay justified that decision.

Even as far back as their first replay under Cody, the 2004 All-Ireland final quarter-final against Clare, three changes were made as the experienced Michael Kavanagh and John Hoyne and the promising James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick were introduced.

For the first time this weekend a Kilkenny team under Cody won't be favourites for a replay when they face Galway. But the surgical process is unlikely to change.

Cody's replay history

2004 ALL-IRELAND Q/F

KILKENNY 1-11  CLARE 0-9

Clare unveiled a sweeper in the drawn game but Kilkenny were better prepared and prevailed as Cody brought in more experience.

 

2012 ALL-IRELAND FINAL

KILKENNY 3-22  GALWAY 3-11

Galway were in touch until the final quarter when Kilkenny eased away, debutant Walter Walsh, one of two changes, stealing the show by bagging 1-3.

 

2013 LEINSTER SEMI-FINAL

DUBLIN 1-16  KILKENNY 0-16

Anthony Daly wondered aloud to Brian Cody after the drawn game if one of his teams would ever beat them. Six days later they did as a difficult season for Kilkenny became a lot more treacherous.

 

2014 LEINSTER SEMI-FINAL

KILKENNY 3-19  GALWAY 1-17

TJ Reid hit 2-11 as Cody made five changes and the team benefited from an early goal rush.

 

2014 ALL-IRELAND FINAL

KILKENNY 2-17  TIPPERARY 2-14

The recall of Kieran Joyce and goalscorer John Power delivered. Kilkenny were more physical and aggressive second time around.

 

2016 ALL-IRELAND SEMIFINAL

KILKENNY 2-19  WATERFORD 2-17

TJ Reid at midfield, Liam Blanchfield in for his debut, one of three changes as Kilkenny got the job done.

Irish Independent

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