Sport Hurling

Saturday 17 February 2018

Cats legends will take time to reach the right decisions

Cody and Shefflin are at a crossroads but memories of painful summer could spur them on, writes Colm Keys

Henry Shefflin goes past Kilkenny manger Brian Cody after being sent off in Semple Stadium against Cork
Henry Shefflin goes past Kilkenny manger Brian Cody after being sent off in Semple Stadium against Cork
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Every year Brian Cody takes a little time to weigh up his future with Kilkenny in the weeks after September (only three times in 15 years has it ended any earlier).

In his autobiography published a few years ago he admitted his pool of confidantes for the consultation was quite small. In fact it didn't look like it extends far beyond the family home as he referenced his wife Elise, a former player and coach in her own right, as the voice he respected most.

Most years the decision is likely to have come easily. Kilkenny as All-Ireland champions in good shape, the underage teams that fuel them all ticking over nicely and a dressing-room featuring some of the greatest players to have played the game to walk back into the following January.

Why would he be the one to break the link in the chain when things have run so smoothly?

Hurling has always consumed him. Whether it's an underage match in 'the Village' or a Fitzgibbon Cup game down the country, Cody is renowned for his attendance. The game really is his one and only pastime and his life has revolved neatly around it.


The last time a decision on whether to go on is likely to have really taxed him was after the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final against Galway.

When they left the dressing-room that evening in Croke Park many felt they had listened to a farewell speech, so much so that three players approached him in the car park of the Newpark Hotel where they had disembarked and implored upon him to stay.

It helped to sway any lingering doubts he had. They didn't lose a championship match again for five years. It is some of those same players who will again give him the best indication of what the right decision is.

Over the next few months Cody might take a little longer to deliberate about the future than he ordinarily would.

There is much to consider on a personal level as much as a hurling level. Has he detected any signs that he is not getting the same response out of the players as he has invariably always got? Has his authority in the dressing-room diminished in any way?

The signs of Kilkenny's aura of invincibility have slowly but surely surfaced over the last two seasons that have incorporated a ninth All-Ireland title on his watch.

Three defeats and two draws in 12 championship games, and only one goal from play in six games this season when the average score has been just 0-18 are statistics that point to a gradual decline in their powers. Yet you can't help feeling that Kilkenny have been weakened so badly by injuries that it had the biggest effect on their dip, more than tiring legs and eroding hunger.

Henry Shefflin spent the first six months of this year rehabilitating from a broken bone in his foot that troubled him a couple of months longer than anticipated; after a blistering league final, Michael Fennelly's season was also turned upside down while Michael Rice and TJ Reid struggled to find form following the injuries they picked up in last year's All-Ireland semi final and final replay.

Imagine a fit Fennelly, a fit Shefflin, a fit Rice and a fit Reid in Semple Stadium last Sunday.

Shefflin hasn't put himself through the rehabilitative and recovery work in that time for three bit-part roles in championship games, two of which his impact was minimal in.

That is likely to be the influencing factor in at least giving himself the scope to hold off on any decision until sometime next year.

He'll be 34 next January. At the same age, Brian O'Driscoll has signed up to another year with the Leinster and Irish rugby teams.

As for Cody, the idea that there is a 'good' time to get out is something he might bristle at.

You could never imagine him poring over his treasure trove of honours and deciding that's enough. You could never imagine what he has won in the past as being an influence as to what he does in the future.

There might be a bad time though. And around the 34th minute of last Sunday's defeat is likely to burn deep in any deliberations.

The greatest managerial career and the greatest player the game has arguably known both deserve a better ending.

Cody's record of regenerating and repairing after championship defeats is exemplary.

Too many things that were simply out of their control went wrong in 2013 for them not to hop back up on the carousel again next year.

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