Monday 19 March 2018

Comment: Cody's time as top Cat has come to an end - the legendary manager should be moved to a 'Director' role


Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has never discounted the league. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has never discounted the league. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Kilkenny just aren't Kilkenny anymore. They've become something different, something they probably never imagined they could be. They've become a team which loses matches.

Saturday's defeat in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was the latest example of Kilkenny's new-found ability to come out on the wrong end of close finishes. It follows the shoot-out defeat against Wexford in the Walsh Cup final and a 2017 where the Cats won just three out of nine competitive matches.

Excuses can be made for any of these defeats - key players were missing against Cork, the shoot-out is just a lottery - if they are regarded in isolation.

But take them together and an unmistakable pattern emerges. A competitive winning percentage of 30pc is not what you'd expect from genuine All-Ireland contenders.

Once the team which always found a way to win, these days Kilkenny are contriving to find new ways of falling short.

When on Saturday night the teams entered injury-time on level terms it seemed like classic black and amber territory. Instead it was Cork who kicked on and kept their nerve, tacking on five points to the visitors' two. The denouement seemed symbolic of how things are for the teams at the moment: Cork riding high on the new wave of enthusiasm engendered by last year's Munster campaign, Kilkenny diminished and uncertain in their new post-greatness era.

You can dismiss games like Saturday's as being 'only the league'. That's what pundits said last year when countering the argument that Kilkenny's uninspiring league form might carry on to the championship. Yet the flaws exposed in the spring were exploited in the summer.

Kilkenny's 2-18 to 0-19 league quarter-final defeat by Wexford proved to be a rehearsal for their subsequent 1-20 to 3-11 loss to the same opposition in Leinster.

There was some tut-tutting when John Mullane expressed the hope that Waterford would draw Kilkenny in the qualifiers because the old enemy were there for the taking, but he was proved right.

I suspect Brian Cody isn't quite as sanguine about the current situation as those who insist he doesn't have much to worry about.

Witness his behaviour at the Walsh Cup final, where he was sent to the stands after arguing with a linesman and afterwards claimed that Richie Reid had only been sent off because of a Wexford player, "roaring and bawling to a referee about his helmet".

That would have been a remarkable show of temper at any stage of the season, but at a Walsh Cup final? You couldn't escape the impression of a manager who already feels under pressure.

Cody has never discounted the league. Of his 11 championship winning seasons, six included league titles with appearances in the final on two other occasions.

It was interesting to hear Clare co-manager Donal Moloney observe after the Banner's win over Tipperary yesterday that league hurling is much more intense these days because there isn't time to make mistakes. The lessons of the secondary competition should not be discounted.

It can be difficult to get a clear view of Kilkenny's position because the size of Cody's reputation gets in the way. He is the greatest hurling manager in history and as such has become a sort of monument. There is nothing easier than to defend him on the grounds that he has got things right so many times in the past they're sure to come right again.

But that's not always how things work out. Cody's only rival as the 'greatest of all GAA bosses' is Mick O'Dwyer, who enjoyed an even more totemic status. Yet, for all O'Dwyer's brilliance, his final years with Kerry were deeply unsatisfying as Cork wrested supremacy from the Kingdom in Munster and they entered an unprecedented period of decline. Micko's career with Kerry ended in disappointment. That's why his victories with Kildare and Laois were so stirring.

Even the greatest managers can hang on too long. Perhaps they're the most susceptible to temptation.

Before the last financial crisis we used to hear about banks which were 'Too Big To Fail'. Brian Cody is too big to be told he's failing. No-one in Kilkenny has the authority to tell him when it's time to go. The manager is his own judge and jury. He may have earned that right.

People like to say that Cody, 'owes Kilkenny nothing', but if the man himself thought that he'd hardly be managing the team.

There's a remarkable resemblance between the paths followed by O'Dwyer's Kerry footballers and Cody's Kilkenny hurlers. Both had to battle for pre-eminence against powerful rivals before turning the tide - Kerry's win over Dublin in the 1978 football final having its parallel in Kilkenny's victory against Cork in the 2006 hurling decider.

Then came the years of peak achievement and four in a rows, Kerry from 1978-1981, Kilkenny from 2006-2009. And when five in a row bids were foiled, both teams regrouped, Kerry to win three in a row from 1984-1986, Kilkenny to take four out of five between 2011 and 2015. They weren't as good as they'd been, but still managed to win.


Kerry's last hurrah was followed by an 11-year gap to the county's next All-Ireland victory. Players like Sheehy, Liston, Egan and Ó Sé are not easily replaced and their longevity meant the development of the next generation had been stunted to a certain extent.

Shefflin, Delaney, Walsh, Tyrrell et al cast equally outsize shadows over the men who strive to fill their shoes. Brian Cody and Kilkenny may now be where Kerry were after their greatest generation called it a day.

There's an idea that Kilkenny possess an everlasting supply of young talent. But in the last decade the county's record at underage level has been, by it's own standards, pretty underwhelming. It's 2008 since Kilkenny won an All-Ireland U-21 title and they've won only two of the eight Leinsters in that period.

Between 2002 and 2010 Kilkenny made six of the nine All-Ireland minor finals. Since 2011 they've reached one out of seven.

It all bodes ill for the future. Perhaps the best way Brian Cody could serve his county now would be as a Director of Hurling overseeing the necessary underage revival. But who in Kilkenny would suggest that to him?

It'll take a lot of guts to call time on the biggest Cat of them all.

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