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Brian Cody has tunnel vision when it comes to making Kilkenny the No1 hurling team in the land

Brian Cody has tunnel vision when it comes to making Kilkenny the No1 hurling team in the land

Brian Cody has tunnel vision when it comes to making Kilkenny the No1 hurling team in the land

When Richie Hogan was sent off for striking Limerick's Seanie Tobin with 12 minutes remaining in the All-Ireland quarter-final in July, it prompted one supporter from another county to vent his spleen towards Brian Cody and the Kilkenny players.

The supporter made his way towards the back of the Cats dugout and began rapping on the Perspex covering before unleashing a string of expletives in the direction of anyone from Kilkenny within earshot on the sideline. As soon as Cody heard him, he didn't take it lying down and instantly reacted in an animated manner.

Cody was already really wound up. He had laid it on the line hard in the dressing-room at half-time. Kilkenny were clearly driven on by the lash from his tongue after the break, but he still didn't spare the players after the nine-point victory. Cody went against normal protocol and cleared all the county board and extended back-room team out of the dressing-room before addressing the players. Then he ate them alive.

Cody accused some players of coasting. He said that unless every player shook himself up and improved by 150pc, they were going nowhere.

Ever since the Leinster final defeat to Galway, Cody has been in siege mentality mode. In a meeting after that game, he was extremely animated, having a go at some players for, what he felt, was an excessive public profile before the Leinster final. Then he shut the gates to their training sessions.

The manager's comments about refereeing before the drawn All-Ireland final were cleverly put together, but they still hinted at somebody under pressure. His heated reaction and subsequent exchange with Anthony Cunningham after Galway were awarded the late free to level the game was understandable in the circumstances. But it was another clear illustration of how Cody has been on edge since July.

He may have felt provoked into responding in that manner but there are two ways of looking at that incident.

"Cody completely lost the head on the line and that's unlike him," says Kevin Clancy, a sports psychologist who has worked with the Cork footballers for the last three seasons.

Fellow sports psychologist Declan Coyle has a different take: "I feel it was just the sheer passion of the man," he says.

With Cody and Kilkenny, the act of winning is greater than the titles and the glory that winning brings. Every performance, every win counts for something. Yet after their struggles this summer, it would be easy to think now that such an outlook has been slightly altered and that this team are desperately trying to win just one more All-Ireland. That theory has also extended to Cody because many people believe that if he wins this All-Ireland, he might finally decide to walk away.

"I think more than anything, Cody would desperately want this team to get one more All-Ireland," says one close associate of Cody's. "Not for himself, but for this team. His appetite is bottomless but he may ask himself if he has the appetite to rebuild, or whether or not he is the man for that rebuilding job.

"His ego doesn't count. He honestly doesn't care about records for himself. It's always the next game for him, no matter what. If Kilkenny win on Sunday, Cody will have something in his head on Monday night about how the team will be going for next year's league. He has always had an extraordinary clear head."

Cody and Kilkenny have been in this position before. They were effectively written off after Galway beat them in 2005 and they responded with four-in-a-row. There were serious question marks hanging over that team for the first time ever after Tipperary beat them in the 2010 All-Ireland final and then Dublin blitzed them in the 2011 league final. Kilkenny emphatically quelled those doubts last summer but they have returned again now.

The big difference this time around is the players have far more mileage on the clock and Cody has far less depth on the bench.

In another sense, it is only natural for Cody to have reacted in the way he has during this championship. Consistently convincing his teams to play with the outlook and mentality of underdogs has been one of his greatest achievements, but Kilkenny have assumed real underdog status since the Leinster final.

The fact that Galway have discovered how to negate Kilkenny's game by contaminating their aerial authority has also forced Cody to tactically rethink -- he was criticised in many quarters in Kilkenny for his failure to adapt quicker to Galway's tactics three weeks ago.

It is easy to picture Cody ever since as really living up to his "ruthless" image, and goading his players into a huge response on Sunday. Cody has never given any glimpse of his inner mind or the team's inner workings, and he has always cultivated a distance which has added to his mystique.

Affection has never been a dynamic in his relationship with the players but Cody has never played up to the common perception of him as ruthless. Big names were dropped and left off the team, but Cody never believed that added up to ruthlessness.

One panel member was cut from the panel earlier this year, reportedly for drinking between a club and inter-county game. Yet more high-profile players have strayed offside in the past and survived. If Cody was as ruthless as has always been claimed, would those players have been dropped?

mentality

Does that not show that Cody wants to win by whatever means he can?

"Cody understands the whole mentality behind the camaraderie of having a few pints," says one former player. "But he also knows that there is a time when you have to keep your powder dry. And other times when you have to let fly."

There have been occasions when Cody has irked people inside and outside the panel. Before the 2010 All-Ireland final, he pulled Paddy Hogan and team-captain Eoin Guinan from the Kilkenny Intermediate team set to play in the All-Ireland final. The decision sparked some silent fury from the Intermediate management when neither featured on the senior team eight days later. Guinan was released from the senior panel the following spring.

"Cody never feels answerable to anybody," says another former player. "His attitude would be, 'I did what I felt was right for the team and I will make no apologies to anybody for it'. That's always been his attitude too to dropping players."

That mystique about Cody and his personality means that people -- both his own players and the opposition -- don't know how to take him. "That is a strength of his," says former Wexford manager Liam Griffin. "He is working with a team of high achievers and a very motivated group but having that type of personality is important for a group like that. If he had a different type of personality, he might not be able to handle the group as well as he has."

Because he has this aura around his personality that he never exposes, new players going into the set-up are acutely aware of what is expected of them.

"Whatever about this projection of his ruthless personality, that only works because he has a phenomenal chemistry within the team," says Coyle. "Somebody else could try and ape that and it would backfire."

That aura also extends beyond the Kilkenny squad. Cody is the most powerful and influential voice in hurling. His words often carry a vested interest and can certainly influence people.

"He will often come out with a counter-punch before it needs to be thrown," says Griffin. "Kilkenny play on the edge. But Brian has enough emotional intelligence to know they could be undone by that perception. He reacts to stuff in an intelligent way from a Kilkenny perspective. It annoys people but you have to respect him for it."

If Kilkenny win on Sunday, some of the players might have a few beers with Cody in the front bar in Langtons on Tuesday evening. His guard might be dropped but only slightly.

Yet, win or lose, he will be thinking ahead early next week, with closely guarded thoughts of either continuing to drive the machine forward, or else of possibly handing the controls to someone else.

Irish Independent