Monday 22 January 2018

Cody rejects 'pressure' on players

Kilkenny boss laughs off talk of tactical change for Cats' final fling

IT MIGHT be a leopard-skin, killer heels or a handbag the size of a small child.

These are the seasonal trends that fashionistas like to call a 'must-have' accessory and the GAA's equivalent this year is undoubtedly the 'sweeper'.

Playing extra defenders has become so prevalent that people are now up in arms and questioning the very ethos of Gaelic football and the ultra-defensive tactic is now even rearing its head in hurling.

There is a fair argument that Kilkenny, particularly their midfielders, already naturally operate like sweepers. However, considering the goal frenzy they suffered in last year's decider and how Dublin used an extra defender so effectively to contain Tipperary's goal-machine to a single three-pointer, it seems a no-brainer to ask Brian Cody if he is contemplating using a sweeper in Sunday's mouth-watering 'three-peat' against the Premier county.

The Kilkenny manager, literally, laughs out loud at the suggestion.

"We won't be playing a sweeper, that's all I can tell you for sure!" he chuckles.

Would that be anathema to Kilkenny, some kind of betrayal of the county's historic tradition of going toe-to-toe with their man and relying on their skill?

"Naw, it's not that it's not Kilkenny's way of doing it or anything. It's just, well, how many teams play that sweeper-type thing in hurling?" he says.

"We just go and play. Our focus will be on ourselves, on playing as well as we possibly can, that has always been our focus.

"Of course we are aware of Tipperary's strengths and there are many but, at the end of the day, if we just focus completely on Tipperary, Tipperary, Tipperary, we will forget the fact that we are kinda decent ourselves if we go out and play."

Only a man of Cody's gargantuan managerial achievements and personal gravitas could use the phrase "kinda decent" ahead of Sunday's clash of hurling giants without being facetious.

Since he took over in 1999, few have been able to dethrone his ferocious hurling felines.

Kilkenny's championship record alone under his management features seven All-Ireland titles from 10 finals and statistics that read: played 55, won 48, drew one, lost six.

But after losing last year's 'drive for five' and then this year's league final to Dublin, the Cats' air of invincibility has been shattered.

recover

Only Sunday will tell quite how far normal service has been resumed, but how did Kilkenny recover so quickly after the league final?

"I wouldn't say there was any kind of massive dawning on us that there was something particularly wrong. Our league form was always patchy, we stuttered through it," Cody notes, pointing out that they were also without a number of marquee players in the final, not least Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly.

"Outwardly it would have appeared that there was some panic, but there was definitely no panic whatsoever within our camp," he adds.

"There was disappointment alright because we weren't competitive that day and that sort of goes against the grain for us."

When it is suggested that Kilkenny weren't disciplined either that day, which is most unlike them, he bristles.

"I wouldn't go along with that fully," he replies. "I still maintain that Eoin Larkin's sending off was completely way over the top. He reacted to something, a spin around was all he did, there was no malice or intent whatsoever to strike."

But you couldn't excuse the John Dalton incident surely?

"John Dalton was dealt with at the time. A particular incident can happen at any stage of any match. But it wasn't a case of getting brainwaves about what went wrong. Life went on. You just continue to prepare. There's a natural stepping up as usual come championship time."

It is an intensely competitive biorhythm that Cody has lived continuously for 13 years and the remarkable thing about last year's All-Ireland final loss was that it wasn't him but the winning manager -- Liam Sheedy -- who stepped down, saying the pressure of elite GAA management is only sustainable for a short period.

Some believe Cody has stayed on solely to get revenge and that Sunday's re-match is the culmination of a huge personal -- and team -- crusade against Tipp. However, he begs to differ.

"Look, it's your job (the media) to make a huge drama about that kind of thing but it doesn't occur to me like that at all," he says.

"I have been involved in hurling for a very long time, lost and won All-Ireland finals as a player and as a manager. I understand the realities of sport.

"It can be the very same in a club -- you can win or lose a county final. The same feelings exist but you don't suddenly start to question your very being.

"You don't go away and hide and not want to be seen again for a few days. It's not like that. Life goes on.

"I always hear about the phenomenal 'pressure' on inter-county hurlers, that they have this savage commitment, and I could never buy into that.

"There are other players who would love to get into that dressing-room, would be prepared to do whatever it takes.

"The reason fellas stay in there is because doing whatever it takes is their enjoyment. This is not a sacrifice, this is their sporting lives. Some are fortunate to be able to play at the highest level. That is not tough, that is a pleasure. They are living their dreams.

"How people can feel sorry for those lads I'll never understand. Envy them maybe, without a shadow of a doubt."

But isn't the pressure for success, especially on managers, now not getting a bit ridiculous?

"Look, nobody came and put a gun to my head, or any other manager in the country, and said you have to do this job," Cody continues, pointing out it's not technically a job anyway as he's not paid.

"This is of my own free will and I don't see it as a sacrifice or as a pressure. If it was putting a strain on my health, or on my life or my family and causing problems, I would be a lunatic to be doing it, but none of those things, thankfully, exist and it is (still) enjoyable."

Irish Independent

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