Kilkenny braced for period of transition - Cody
Cats boss admits champions facing challenging league after winter of high-profile departures
Brian Cody used a word yesterday that you don't normally hear from him or identify Kilkenny with - "transition".
For a county that could parade five prominent cups on the top table for their Glanbia sponsorship launch in Nowlan Park yesterday, the word just didn't seem to fit neatly. Don't players adapt seamlessly into vacant positions in the land of the black and amber, regardless of who those positions were once occupied by?
But this has been no ordinary winter for the All-Ireland champions after a raft of retirements that were almost daily during one week. And with a decision still to be made by Henry Shefflin, the departure lounge may could yet entertain its most important guest.
It moved Cody to embrace what is now essentially a transitory phase for the champions. He even joked that punters might be advised to have a look at the odds on their opponents over the next couple of weeks, such is the scale of their absentee list.
"It's going to be very challenging because of who we've lost," predicted Cody. "People can say we only lost JJ (Delaney) of the starters for the All-Ireland replay, but it only takes one or two injuries and suddenly all those players are crucially important.
"Even in the dressing-room, their experience, wisdom, leadership, all of that is massive.
"I said we're heading for transition and we are. That's the reality and we'll go at it. We don't know where we'll go but we'll go at it."
Cody accepted that there was a certain sadness that so many great players had opted to go but that was the "inevitability of the reality of sport".
"That's the way sport works. Great players come and great players go but the challenge is still there," he said.
Delaney's decision surprised him, he did concede, though "not massively either."
"I was surprised, yes. You never know what players will decide. To the very last ball that he pucked, he just was on top of his game and that's the way he decided it," said Cody.
"I think everybody feels there is more in JJ. When he was injured for the 2006 All-Ireland final, I said at the time that I had never seen a better defender and I haven't seen anything to change my mind since. I have never seen a better defender than JJ Delaney."
The fact that the Cats have lost such an important cog in such an important position (full-back) adds to the challenge.
"It's a hugely responsible position and you need a very talented player, and a player with a great instinct for the game. With JJ his instinct for defending was complete,"said Cody.
"As a wing-back he was massive and there was never a question he could play full-back. We just knew he could play full-back at a massive level.
"I could talk about Tommy (Walsh) too and have said many times before that to me Tommy was the game of hurling: nobody epitomises it more than Tommy Walsh did. Just outstanding in every aspect. He was everything.
"Brian Hogan gave massive service and was the top centre-back in the game for a number of years definitely and there was outstanding service from Aidan Fogarty for many years. He was man of the match in the 2006 All-Ireland final. David Herity as well gave terrific service."
Cody said the departures didn't change anything from his own point of view.
"I'm not looking for a perfect time to bow out. If that was in my head or my motivation, I probably had a opportunities a few times to do that. So I'm not looking for the perfect time to go out because we won this or that," he stressed.
"I'm just doing the job, a responsible job as the Kilkenny hurling manager and I have decided I will take on the challenge again."
The league will be challenging, especially in the early stages with up to 13 of last year's championship squad out of action, he accepted, before pointing out: "We used a lot of players in last year's league and it didn't do any harm.
"Sometimes you do that by choice and sometimes you do it because you have to, and we are going to have to do it this year. But that's good because the most important thing you have to cultivate is a panel, and certainly that challenge has been thrown at us now.
"Players came in before who, in many people's eyes, were not destined to become serious players. But they turned out to be serious players.
"He doesn't have to be the absolute full package or anything yet but he can develop as a team player and he can find out exactly what he has to offer.
"It is going to be very difficult initially and right throughout the league perhaps but that's a good way to be too. Starting next Saturday night it is going to be interesting. Unfortunately due to very difficult times and tragedies we had no option but not play in the Walsh Cup."
Kilkenny have been involved in two of the three successive All-Ireland final replays but Cody believes plans to play future replays six days later, as proposed in the recent calendar year document is "a big ask."
"I understand why, because three weeks prolongs the thing, but it would be a tough ask because you see the players after the All-Ireland and they're almost physically and mentally spent.
"A top class game like an All-Ireland final, it's tough going, and you'd spend the week recovering. Ideally you wouldn't want to see them playing again the following Saturday. Two weeks is probably the ideal time. The problem is, you are eating into the club season, and the club scene needs to be looked after properly."
Cody was, however, reluctant to give a firm opinion on the Hurling 2020's suggestion to allow double yellow-carded players to be replaced.
l Kilkenny GAA will host their annual race day in Gowran Park on March 21 to raise funds for the county team training fund. Members of the squad will be in attendance.