Camp Kilkenny: What it's really like under Cody's eye
A few seasons back, I dropped into Nowlan Park to take a look at Kilkenny training. I do that from time to time to remind myself of what it was like through the years.
It was a grand fine evening and the lads were having one of the famous in-house games, with no quarter asked, given or expected.
I reckoned it was pretty much as it always had been. Then, I decided to text the referee. His name? Brian Cody.
My text ran: "You've never changed with the whistle anyway. Still buried deep in your pocket and going to stay there."
Brian would have liked that. He always loves the training games to be as close as possible to the real thing. Every man for himself and all that. If you can win your own ball in training where you've little or no chance of getting a free, you'll do fine on match day. Let's put it this way – there's not much a player will experience in a game that he hasn't been through in Nowlan Park.
I'll give you an example. I remember one session where the ash was flying and as I jumped with Peter Barry under a high ball, he pulled and caught me flush on the middle finger.
It was badly dislocated and I knew straight away it needed urgent attention, so I ran off the pitch without saying a word to anyone. Mind you, I hadn't even got a free! I probably didn't deserve one, although my busted finger, now pumping blood and looking as if had been hit by a sledge-hammer, might not agree.
Almost doubled up with pain, I headed straight for the car and sped down to Dr Bill Cuddihy's house. He said something about maybe needing an operation, but then he gave me an injection and got to work on the finger. His expertise eventually worked and he jerked it back into place. It still looked a bit of a mess, but Dr Bill assured me it would be okay.
Happy that the injury wasn't as bad as I thought, but still feeling pretty miserable, I wanted to head home, but since I was in my tracksuit and my clothes were up in the Nowlan Park dressing-room, I drove back up. The lads were still training, but the game was over and they were running around the pitch. I came out the tunnel from the dressing-room, took a look at them and wondered what I'd do next. Heading back in and getting changed seemed like a good idea, but they were just approaching, so I decided to join them. I tucked in with the group, and saw out the rest of the session.
I swear to God, I don't think I had been missed! I was away for about 45 minutes, but training went on, hell for leather, dog-eating-dog and no room for looking around to see who wasn't there! I was back running at the end of the session, so it was assumed I was okay. If I was looking for sympathy, I was in the wrong place.
So, what was Brian like to work with? Very few people know him well. The many Kilkenny players involved with him over the years know a certain amount but no more. He's good for them, good for Kilkenny and, indeed, good for hurling in general, but that's as far as it goes. After that, he's a private man who does his own thing.
I'll say this about Brian Cody – if anyone ever tells you that he passed a critical remark in public about a Kilkenny player, they are telling lies. His loyalty to the players, to the jersey and to the Kilkenny brand is unbreakable. Also, he always has the utmost respect for the people he works with, provided, of course, that they do their job. And if they don't, they are gone pretty quickly. It's that simple.
The idea that Brian would ever bad-mouth a player behind his back is so alien to the man that it just wouldn't happen. I know him as well as anyone else who played under him and never heard him being critical of a Kilkenny hurler.
Since I retired, I would ring Brian occasionally before a big game to wish him and the team well, but we'd never talk about individual players. Nor would I ask him who he was planning to play or anything like that, because I wouldn't put him in a position to have to say: "Well, you know I don't talk about that."
The thing about Brian is that Kilkenny always comes first. Inevitably, that involves making decisions that lads won't like, but then no manager can keep everyone happy all the time. There are plenty of players who were fiercely disappointed over not being on the panel or the team over the years, but they had to take it. There can't be a Court of Appeal. The boss has the ultimate call.
People often ask me what Brian was like in the dressing-room. I think they expect to hear about this giant of a man bellowing out instructions and laying down the law but it's not like that at all. Yes, he would make stirring speeches when he had to; yes, he would lay down the law, but it was always done in a well-organised way so that everyone knew exactly what it was about. His command in a dressing-room is total, not in a domineering sort of way, but rather as the man who pulls everything and everyone together.
One thing he always hated was empty talk. He has no time for fellas who talk a good show and then fail to deliver. You either put up or shut up with Brian. Sometimes, you'd have lads shouting and roaring as if they couldn't wait to knock down the door and get out on the pitch but they mightn't be quite as driven once the action began. They were no good to Brian.
He applies a fairly basic philosophy to the job. Get in the best players, train them well and let them hurl. The one thing Brian would never accept in training was a drop in tempo. If your touch was out or the overall quality of hurling wasn't particularly good, he wouldn't worry too much because he knew it was there and would come out at another time. But if the tempo and intensity drops, he just won't have it. He wants lads rattling into each other, not just now and then but for the full training game.
Being involved with Kilkenny is a serious business and he simply won't accept any sloppiness. I remember at one stage how a guy who was new to the panel made the mistake of thinking he didn't have to heed what he was being told. We were doing a drill which involved sprinting and picking up the ball at speed on the way back.
The new lad tried to lift the ball one-handed on a few occasions and it didn't come off. He was told the drill involved using both hands, but he still didn't do it. He wasn't there the following night and was never brought back. Brian obviously didn't like his attitude and cut him adrift.
There was no way Brian would ever tolerate having anyone on the panel who isn't prepared to toe the line. Standards are set and maintained by the group as a whole and once everyone buys into that, the ship is easy to run.
It's that attitude that turned Kilkenny into the unbelievable force it became under Brian. People wonder how players who won so much continue to be motivated year after year but the actual winning is a key ingredient in that. The more a player wins, the more he wants to win. The challenge for a manager is to keep the standards up, which Brian has done so consistently.