Cody admits no guarantees over Hogan's return
Richie Hogan is back training but there was a guarded prognosis about his full recovery from manager Brian Cody as he continues to manage a back injury that has kept him out of the league and restricted his performance in 2017.
Kilkenny recorded a ninth league success under Cody without Hogan, Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly, the latter two based in Lebanon on a tour of duty with the Defence Forces prior to their return two weeks ago.
Cody has acknowledged that there are tentative signs of progress with Hogan and said potential retirement, because of the ailment, was never discussed between them.
"He's had this for a couple of years really and played through it. He is that kind of player who doesn't give in to injuries.
"He's a really, really determined fella who's prepared to put up with a bit of pain. He probably went too far doing that. He's had a tough time now since last year," admitted Cody.
"But he's been working away, as much as he's been able to do. Physically, he's in good shape from a fitness point of view but he still hadn't shaken off the injury.
"But there's signs now that he's, hopefully, maybe, at a stage where he can get back and maybe to playing. It's early stages and there's no guarantees. He was able to get involved in a bit of training just the other night for the first time, genuinely for the first time. We'll wait to see a reaction to that."
Cody said he was "sure" Hogan was still targeting some action in the Leinster round robin series. "How it'll pan out is very, very difficult to say but, as regards a fella doing everything possible to get back, you won't find anyone better. It (retirement) was something we didn't talk about. He certainly didn't countenance that anyway. He's an absolutely driven and a totally ambitious guy."
Cody said he wasn't going to "start pontificating" about the new format until he actually experienced it, acknowledging that it would be "challenging."
But as to whether there would be any afterglow from their league win, "unexpected" as it was, it appears he has already moved on.
"A lot of the teams were putting different emphasis on their own approach to the league. It wasn't as if we won the league by beating top-strength teams everywhere because some of the teams were preparing at different levels," he admitted.
"They were thinking championship the whole time. We had to go at things straight away because I said, at the start, I wanted to get as much game-time into as many players as possible to see what our strongest panel was and to see what players would realistically have the best chance of coming through."
Observations of a different Kilkenny style, more careful with their possession, have been made regularly with Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald among those to notice it. "It's like as if we weren't able to play hurling before, we were playing a game that was different altogether," said Cody.
"We've had very good players over the years and our players have never been sent out to stick rigidly to a way of playing .
"You prepare and you talk about it, look at opposition and everything else. Then you send the players out and you trust them to play the game that's taking place in front of them.
"Over the years, we've always had to adapt certain ways for certain games and certain tactics for other teams. The game has become more tactical now and there's more teams putting different challenges in front of us compared to what it would have been a few years ago.
"So therefore there has been, I suppose, a more obvious tweaking of things now to deal with the game that's taking place in front of your eyes.
"Again, there's no masterplan coming through from team management or anything like that, because you go out one day and you're playing what would have been considered an orthodox game if you like, and the next game could be against a team that employ different tactics. And the players understand that.
"I would always have a great trust in the understanding that the players have of the game and how it should be played and of their ability to think on their feet."
Ahead of his 20th championship, now just three shy of Seán Boylan's long record of service with Meath football, Cody said his enjoyment hasn't diminished.
"People might think I am a bit stale as a coach for some reason because of the way the game is going," he laughed. "I don't think too much of those things at all. The only reason I'm doing this is because I enjoy doing it and I like the challenge of doing it. Then there's the players who are completely committed.
"You go to training and you never wonder, 'How training will go tonight.' Because you know the application of the players is absolute. It's something very, very enjoyable to be involved with.
"I always said that when that day comes, when that question mark comes into my head, obviously I will suddenly be telling myself, 'It's time to get out of here'. No, that hasn't arrived. People make a lot of it sometimes and wonder why you're doing this and talk about the stresses and strains and all the other things that are supposed to be involved in it and I don't see it like that at all. I don't feel the stress of this thing, There's a challenge and there's a buzz, match days."
His distaste for the practicality of April as a 'club' month is evident.
"Kilkenny weren't in favour of it. Kilkenny voted against this thing because the Kilkenny club set-up was an excellent set-up, up to this year. Every club would agree with that because every club had a league championship where, in reality, there was a championship match every month - April, May, June, along the whole way. They knew it, they played their game, prepared for a few weeks and had another big game and that's gone. Now they no longer know when they're playing next. I don't think it's a good one for the clubs."