Sunday 24 February 2019

Dempsey: Neither of us are so brave as to wear his bib

WHO needs Brian Cody, eh? That was the running joke in Thurles after Kilkenny performed a ritual disembowelling of their recent arch enemies without the legend who has managed them to nine All-Irelands and six league titles.

Seeing Kilkenny starting a competitive game without Cody on the sideline made this league semi-final play out a bit like Hamlet without both the prince and the King (Henry Shefflin).

But his understudies replaced him seamlessly and it was only after the game that stand-in bosses Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey looked a little uncomfortable taking centre stage.

When approached for an interview, Fogarty immediately insisted that Dempsey accompany him; emphatic proof that, even off the pitch, team ethic is everything for these stripey men. Whatever's in the water in Kilkenny, it certainly seems to imbue them with extraordinary sporting Zen.

The pair rarely strayed from each other's shoulder throughout the game, as implacable and composed on the sideline as the man who usually wears the most famous baseball cap in hurling.

Dempsey, sporting a black scull-cap and jersey with 'maor foirne' on it, had his arms folded for most of the game in the manner of the usual gaffer, while Fogarty looked equally chilled and rarely needed to take his hands out of his pockets.

But neither of them wore the Bainisteoir's bib, a point that raised a chuckle when it was put to them.

"Neither of us are that brave that we'd wear the bib in his absence!" Dempsey quipped with a big grin.

Recovering

"We were in contact with him during the week, he is recovering well but he hasn't been in at training or anything like that. He's been keeping a close eye on us," he said, confirming that Cody had intended watching it on TV.

Any fear that having to observe from such a distance might frustrate or set back his recovery from heart surgery were quickly allayed once Kilkenny had bounced back from Cyril Donnellan's early goal. And his two right-hand men were quick to stress that Cody's influence still came to bear, despite his unprecedented absence.

"The spirit and influence he has is still there," stressed Dempsey, like we hadn't noticed the Cats ravenously fighting tooth and claw for every last ball, even when they were leading by 11 points.

"Obviously today will make Brian happy and boost his recovery. It's unlikely he'll be there for the Tipperary match but he should be back in for the first round of the championship."

Cody's absence may have been played down in the run-up but corner-back Paul Murphy confessed that it was something that the players had discussed.

"We knew from two weeks back that he wasn't going to be there and we just prepared as normal, there was no change in training," he said.

"It's just that maybe there was a bit more added motivation knowing Brian was going to be at home. It can't have been easy for him, so we were going to put in a good effort and at least he could see that."

Impressing their boss at training games is famously integral to getting your mitts on a Kilkenny jersey and even Cody will have been impressed, if not bemused, by how quickly this league semi-final came to look like one.

Lester Ryan (24), one of this year's big finds, had an outstanding game in midfield, Richie Hogan was rampant at full-forward, Eoin Larkin gave massive leadership and Cillian Buckley, who had hip surgery, got some game time.

The eight-minute delay due to Fergal Moore's head injury – he was taken to Clonmel hospital for observation but diagnosed with just concussion – seemed to kill Galway's early initiative but selector Tom Helebert wasn't taking that soft option as an excuse.

"They had the momentum just before that," he noted. "They were after tacking on three points just before he (Moore) got hurt and we were starting to leak a little bit around the middle third.

"They started to get a grip on the game. Richie Power started to drift out from centre-forward and picked up a lot of ball, their half-back line solidified and, as a unit, they all just basically clamped us in the middle of the park, and that was their springboard.

"It would have been nice to win it but we're not going to go home morbidly depressed because we lost it. We're focused very much on the championship but one thing you would be concerned about was we did create three or four goal chances and we didn't finish them."

Helebert did, however, concede that the manner of Galway's capitulation was a bit unsettling.

"You are always looking for fellas to fight for the next ball no matter what way the scoreboard is looking," he said. "That would be a disappointment."

Irish Independent

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