By Brendan O’Brien
IT was hard to escape the feeling that we witnessed the end of an era yesterday.
Brian Cody has been steering the good ship Kilkenny for six long and successful years but he may well decide that now is the time to let someone new take the wheel.
When he took over his duties in late 1998, Cody inherited a team that had won just one Leinster title in five years. It goes without saying that, should he decide to step down, he will do so leaving the county side in far better shape than when he arrived.
Should he go, it will be ironic that it is Galway who provided the final nudge out the door. Though Cody’s first All-Ireland success as manager came in 2000, it was the surprise defeat by Galway a year later that prompted him to perform the surgery on his team that led to their dominance for the next two years.
"It’s not a decision that will be made today," was his reaction to questions over his own future and, though many of his lieutenants out on the pitch have clocked up their fair share of miles as well, Cody didn’t necessarily agree that a clutch of retirements would automatically follow.
"The objective of the exercise every year is to win the All-Ireland final and may the best team win it on the day now. For ourselves, it’s over.
"The (players) have been fantastic ambassadors for the game of hurling and for the county. They owe nobody nothing. They’re outstanding players, their commitment and pride is amazing and they’re just a terrific group of fellas."
Not for the first time, Cody welcomed defeat into his parlour with the same dignity as he ever did victory. Even in a county so ruthless in their pursuit of excellence in the game of hurling, there is still the acceptance that is, after all, just a game. The world will still turn when they rise from their nightmare.
"It’s tough for the players because they’ve got used to playing All-Ireland finals but that’s not reality. That’s not the real world. You have highs and you have lows. You make the best of the good times and the lows will eventually disappear. Time will pass and they’ll be hurling again."
Good and all as the game was, it’s never deemed too clever to dwell on a high entertainment factor when talking to a losing manager. For Cody, more than most, the enjoyment lies mostly in the winning, but he was again magnanimous enough to accept the old cliché that ‘hurling was the real winner’ yesterday.
"I’m sure it was. I’m sure people went home thinking it was a massive game and hurling matters to everybody. Next year’s championship will come around again and our players will be there again. That’s the beauty of sport. Life will go on."
No doubt the post-mortem will stretch far into the weeks and months ahead in Kilkenny but too much had transpired in the short 70-plus minutes for the Kilkenny manager to even begin to understand where it went pear-shaped for his team.
"It’s very difficult to work out what happened. People will have all sorts of theories about it but it took several twists and turns. They got goals, we got goals. They got on top, we got on top.
"I had one eye on the clock and there was always a chance near the end. You never give up. We were after getting goals and some great scores. When you’re fighting you have a chance. At the end of the day it’s the final score that matters and they were just ahead of us."
If this is to serve as this team’s epitaph their refusal to accept defeat will be a fitting last dance. At eight points down before half-time they refused to accept their inferiority with two quick goals. At 11 down with less than quarter of an hour to go they did likewise.
"I knew we wouldn’t die. I knew we wouldn’t surrender. I knew the players. They just don’t die. You can talk about mileage in legs all you want but their commitment is absolute. Their genuineness is the greatest thing about them and, ultimately, I’m disappointed for the players."