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'We didn't panic then and we won't panic now' -- Brian Cody

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Brian Cody

Brian Cody

Brian Cody

KILKENNY manager Brian Cody insists that getting "slaughtered" by Galway in the Leinster final will not force his All-Ireland champions into a radical tactical reshuffle ahead of Sunday's eagerly-awaited final rematch.

Galway's decision to use Damien Hayes as a third midfielder, isolate Joe Canning and constantly rotate their forwards helped them gain the momentum in their wham-bam start to a game they had, sensationally, sewn up by half-time.

But the Cats boss is adamant that Kilkenny didn't tear up the plans afterwards and won't alter their own shape dramatically for Sunday's mouth-watering repeat.

"There was no sense of a panic," he stresses. "It wasn't as if there was a fundamental problem like a lack of honesty or anything, or at least we hoped there wasn't.

"I would have huge trust in the players. You could see it in them, their attitude, their level of disappointment afterwards.

"I had absolute confidence that they were going to be completely honest in their attempts to rectify what happened and their attitude was top class. At the end of the day you go back and work, there's no magical way of doing it.

"It's a game that we had to look at and say, 'we didn't perform, we weren't competitive and were out-fought and out-hurled in so many aspects'.

"But you must go back and regroup. There was no major change of mindset or tactical change for the next game. We were probably fairly tentative for the first half of the Limerick game, but in the second half we picked it up a bit and that's the way it went."

Cody has also flatly refused to use the fact that his side started without their first-choice midfield and full-back in that Leinster final as an excuse.

ARRIVAL

Most people regarded the absence of Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice and JJ Delaney as some mitigation for Kilkenny's dramatic underperformance and they improved after the arrival of Rice off the bench, though he has been ruled out for the final.

Yet Cody says: "Three, four or five (additional) players wouldn't have made a difference on that day!

"It was a bit of a hiding really and the players we had in there were genuine members of our panel, so there was no solace to be gained from that.

"Obviously, you'd always like to have your full panel available, but we've never gone down the road of excuses over missing players," he adds. "We've full trust in our panel so I wouldn't have thought of using that (excuse), or thinking 'if we had such and such'.

Kilkenny's phenomenal recent championship history, and the continuity provided by Cody -- in his 14th year in charge -- appears to have helped them regroup to see Limerick and Tipperary off so emphatically.

Since Cody took over, the Cats have played 60 championship games and their record is remarkable: won 52, drew one, lost seven.

That vast experience is why Cody argues: "We shouldn't be in a position where suddenly one defeat is going to shatter our confidence. The team has been together too long for that to happen."

Yet their usually inscrutable boss acknowledges that it did raise question marks about his team's ability to maintain their own stratospheric standards, particularly with an aging defence.

Henry Shefflin (33), Brian Hogan (31), JJ Delaney (30), Jackie Tyrrell (30) and Aidan Fogarty may have shown incredible durability heretofore, but no one can outrun him forever, and a few more of Kilkenny's marquee players such as Tommy Walsh (29), Michael Rice and Eoin Larkin (both 28) are not getting any younger.

Cody accepts: "There would be some wonder around the place, like, is the team coming to an end? There's speculation on that, that's fair enough but it didn't occur to me," he said in the wake of their Leinster final flop.

Yet he admits that Galway's youth could also work in Kilkenny's favour: "If you go back through the history of sports, very often a team first time out will grab the game by the scruff of the neck and just take off, as if they were playing a challenge match.

"Other times the opposite can happen, the team that's on the go a long time will take control, but I don't think either is going to happen in this game," he said.

"I think both teams will put in a good performance, the game will be fought out on the pitch and the better team on the day will win."

If there is a county that has a bit of an Indian sign over the current Kilkenny team, it is Galway.

Of those seven championship losses in Cody's 14-year reign, it is Galway who have done the most damage, but Cody says he still supports the principle of letting the Connacht natives take part in the Leinster championship.

"I'm not in the business of trying to help Galway get to All-Ireland finals or anything like that, but I have never had the slightest problem whatsoever with them coming in to be a part of the Leinster championship," he says.

"I firmly believe it's good. It certainly didn't make sense in a way, that they were just over there in Connacht with no game to play. It's good for hurling, and that's fine for me."

It is Galway who have inflicted the most damage on his team in recent years: beating Kilkenny in All-Ireland semi-finals in 2001 and 2005 and in this year's Leinster final.

"They've done well against us a few times, that's for sure," Cody explains. "But I don't think it matters, it's not an issue as far as we're concerned.

"Obviously, we got a serious beating and that focused the mind very much. But if that had happened in the All-Ireland semi-final that was our year over.

"Everyone understood it was a very bad beating, but we had an opportunity to do something about it, another avenue opened up for us.

"It was an opportunity that we wouldn't always have had, so it wasn't a case of having to motivate players. They came back totally focused and totally determined to salvage the season again and, thank God, it took an extra game, but we got to the final where we wanted to be and the challenge now is to go ahead and win it."

Irish Independent