Cody: 'It looked to me like the referee was not certain'
Manager says 'huge decision' to dismiss Hogan meant Cats would struggle against extra man
Brian Cody insisted it wasn't and couldn't be the abiding message coming from him in the wake of his heaviest ever competitive defeat as Kilkenny manager. But how could it not be, given where the game was and where it ended up?
Tipperary had just inflicted a first double-digit All-Ireland final defeat on his managerial watch, taking to 31 points the cumulative winning margin they've had in their three wins over their great rivals on hurling's blue riband day in this decade.
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That's worth repeating. Tipperary have beaten Kilkenny to win their three All-Ireland titles on this run by an average of just over 10 points each time.
When Kilkenny have lost All-Ireland finals under Cody they have lost them hard, with the exception of his first against Cork in 1999 when the margin was just a point. But between Cork in 2004 and Tipp in 2010, 2016 and now, 2019, there's been a strange inevitability down the home straight.
Each time Cody has pushed out the 'no excuses' mantra giving no oxygen to sympathetic overtures or perceived injustices. But Richie Hogan's 33rd-minute red card for catching Cathal Barrett in the head with an elbow had him torn between the clear impact it had on the game and an unwillingness to take anything away from Tipperary's win.
"I don't want the story going out that I am here, whingeing about that incident in the game. I am here as manager of the Kilkenny hurling team who fought heroically throughout the whole game, right throughout the whole year, played magnificently to get here against all the odds and of all of yourselves (media) and everyone else. I am not being smart in saying that, that was the general expectation of the team.
"We had played outstandingly well all throughout the year. When the knockout matches came, quarter-final and semi-final, we were excellent.
"Today again, right up to half-time, who could predict the winner of the game?" he asked.
"Unfortunately, we lost a player and that is why it is being spoken about. It is spoken about in general because there is divided opinions on what should or shouldn't be. Obviously, that is what happened to us. And we weren't able, we weren't good enough to take on Tipperary down a player, it's that simple."
Hogan's challenge had caught Barrett as he stepped back to evade his opponent. Referee James Owens took him time to deliberate before confirming to Hogan that the punishment was red, in accordance with a directive issued at the beginning of the season that such head-high challenges would be dealt with in this manner.
On the very first evening of the league, Clare's Tony Kelly was dismissed for a head-high challenge on Pádraic Maher, subsequently failing to have it overturned at a hearing. For referees, that endorsement cleared the way for much more forceful application.
By having the conviction to go through with a red card in an All-Ireland final, Owens has set a standard for this type of challenge that will have to be met every time from now on.
Asked for his opinion on the directive, Cody wasn't in the mood for such a fundamental discussion.
"I am not going to start pontificating on my views on anything. I don't have a view on that, to be honest about it. All I will say about the red card is that it appeared to me that the referee was absolutely not certain what to do. And then he decided he would give him a red card. That is what he decided. You better talk to him."
In Cody's eyes such hesitancy amounted to sufficient ambiguity not to merit it.
"It's a huge decision to make to issue a red card. You'd want to be very, very definite before you do a thing like that and certainly, it took the referee a long, long time to decide to make up his mind and say, 'I wonder what that should be?'
"He consulted himself, he consulted his linesman, he consulted the player himself, went over to have a look at him, and I would say if he knew for certain what it was going to be he would have made his mind up straight away."
Kilkenny had been five points clear at one stage but never did Cody feel they weren't ruthless enough to extend that lead.
"We were never going to walk in five, six or seven points ahead against Tipperary. The same thing happened against Limerick the last day, we were well ahead and they got a goal just before half-time. The goal today wasn't going to kill us. We were expecting that they would come back, naturally they would.
"Obviously, we would have loved to be able to carry on in the second half with the same number of players but again, like I said, that is not the abiding message coming from me."
Reduced to 14, Kilkenny took to launching ball after ball into the heart of the Tipperary defence but invariably found a wall of Mahers, Barry Heffernan, Cathal Barrett and Séamus Kennedy in defiant mood.
Too often Cillian Buckley, Paddy Deegan played into Tipp hands with their deliveries. It all felt a little too one-dimensional, even allowing for the numerical disadvantage.
At one stage TJ Reid, who had positioned himself closer to goals for the second half caught and turned with open road in front of him but opted for the less ambitious outcome of a point and shot wide off his right with Kilkenny trailing by nine points at that stage.
"I'd say the use of the ball in the first half was superb when we had a player in every position and it became very, very difficult then in the second half to kind of find the men," Cody pointed out.
"We're talking about playing against a very, very good team, conditions not particularly conducive to finding everything you want to find in it."
Kilkenny had started Adrian Mullen despite the young Ballyhale man picking up a bug during the week, Cody stating he hadn't been hospitalised by it. "Nothing serious. No problem whatsoever."
Yet Mullen was a pale shadow of the player he had been in the semi-final win over Limerick, barely having an impact before being hauled off for a more effective Billy Ryan shortly after half-time. As to the future Cody senses they are still on the right path despite the nature fo this defeat.
"Terrific players there. Terrific players coming along too, there are hurlers in Kilkenny and for as long as I can remember, there has always been hurlers in Kilkenny. That will continue as well. Disappointing today that our minors were beaten as well as our seniors but only two teams every year get to an All-Ireland final."