Monday 24 September 2018

Comment: Cody steering Cats through choppy waters with no end in sight to an incredible voyage

 

Cody: Set to stay on as Kilkenny boss. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cody: Set to stay on as Kilkenny boss. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Words can have a funny way of biting you in the ass, as my comment 18 months ago - "many predicted it would come sooner but Brian Cody's magic wand may finally have expired" - showed this season.

While it bore truth and was emphasised further throughout 2017, the Kilkenny wizard has made a mockery of such folly. Fears that the 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager was running the risk of outstaying his welcome have disappeared as he rejuvenates himself, and his county.

Heading into his 21st season as Kilkenny boss he continues to defy logic. A brief scan of the team sheet will highlight the radical personnel change since their last All-Ireland triumph in 2015, but the same principles remain.

His ability to breed the qualities of hard work, manliness and a never-say-die attitude into aspiring young Kilkenny hurlers is extraordinary. There were doubts if Cody was the one to steer a new crew, but he is gradually reaching his destination.

Kilkenny legend Eoin Larkin was clearly finding the transition from player to supporter difficult when he tweeted the following after their 13-point humiliation at the hands of Clare in the League last year: "Not good enough from KK, still reliant on experienced lads. Younger lads need to have the attitude NEVER give up, too many standing around."

Contrast that with what he said after their Leinster final draw with Galway this summer: "Never got going but, by God, Kilkenny showed some heart and courage. And as I've said before, that will take you anywhere."

The turnaround is remarkable and despite all he has achieved, their league triumph in April may just top them all as they went from relegation candidates to league champions - for a ninth time under Cody's watch.

Nearly everyone had them written off as a beaten docket, but Cody's defiant words after their All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary in 2016 are slowly becoming reality.

"There are players on our panel who haven't been seen yet who will be top players, and quickly," he said, and the likes of James Maher, Martin Keoghan, Richie Leahy and John Donnelly are just a few which he is beginning to mould.

At one stage earlier this season he was being retired to a director's role, but no other team exited this year's championship with as much optimism and those on Noreside will feel they are inching closer to former heights.

Many predicted a shake-up in his back-room team 12 months ago, but it never materialised. Instead he went back to basics, with over 50 bodies involved in their winter training. A true test of character.

Trial matches to decide squads may not be in vogue, but Cody utilised a tried and tested recipe for most new managers - despite being in his 20th season - and unearthed plenty of raw material.

Many openly questioned whether he was the man to rebuild and whether he had run out of ideas, but the 2018 Cats gave an unequivocal answer. Gone was the long ball, in its place precision passing through the lines and an appreciation from the Cats supremo that this was a new project with a new template.

Their three championship defeats were at the hands of defending All-Ireland champions Galway (twice) and subsequent All-Ireland winners Limerick, so there's lots to be optimistic about and the fact that their attacking focal point Walter Walsh was absent for their quarter-final loss to the Treaty seems to have been missed.

What was dubbed as 'the biggest challenge of Cody's managerial career' looks to be a lot more achievable than anyone could have guessed. Kilkenny's messiah continues to reinvent the wheel, and he isn't going anywhere.

Irish Independent

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